Over the past 20 years, A Christmas Story has become an American holiday classic, alongside staples like The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the granddaddy of them all, A Christmas Carol. A musical version of the 1983 movie, which was based on a semi-fictional short story by writer Jean Shepherd, kicks off its national tour at The Hanover Theatre in Worcester, Nov. 9-12. Actor Chris Carsten, who plays Jean Shepherd in A Christmas Story, The Musical, got us in the holiday spirit, talking about the film, the musical, and parenting on the road.
1. Were you a fan of the movie before being hired for the musical?
Yes, I was a fan of the film! I still am, of course. Interestingly enough, I was most taken with the voiceover during the film. I found the energy of the person doing it to be fascinating and hilarious! Turns out it was none other than Jean Shepherd himself, and here I am playing that role!
2. Why do you think A Christmas Story resonates so strongly with viewers?
I think it resonates so well because it has such universal appeal. The story is so well told and unique from other Christmas fare, yet people identify with its message. Toss in the quirks and charm and people, and it is a real winning formula.
3. You’re a husband and father who’s on the road, and for this tour, during the holidays. How do you make tour life work with your family, especially over the holidays?
Thank goodness for apps like FaceTime and Skype! Of course, it isn’t ideal, but we make do the best we can. In years past, we have made road trips to different venues over Christmas so we could be together. We researched the cities we were in to find fun things to do as a family and spent Christmas Day together, and they would of course come to the show.
4. You play Jean Shepherd, who narrated the movie and was unseen except for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. Yet in the musical, you’re onstage throughout the show. How does having two Ralphies onstage together affect the story?
When I approach playing Jean, I like to portray a sense that not only am I telling the story, but in some ways reliving it. It gives the audience a chance to see how the events affected the character. The narrator doesn’t get much opportunity to interact with other characters during the show, but on occasion he will share some moments with young Ralphie that give an extra bounce of remembrance and recognition. Having a person on stage kind of gives the audience something to look at when young Ralphie is feeling the things I am saying.
5. Do you have a favorite song or scene in the show, and does that favorite change?
It is tough to pick favorite moments in the show because I have so many, and the cast is always so wonderful to work with, as are the crew and artistic staff. I have always given a nod to the Mother character in our productions because she feels so grounded when everything seems to be spinning out of control. Her songs are beautiful, and she makes you feel like everything is going to be fine. That’s just me, but there are so many wonderful ingredients in the story you really can’t miss when you choose to come and spend time with our show.
6. You’ve played some great male leads — Henry Higgins, John Adams. What is your dream musical theatre role?
I have had the great good fortune to be a part of a lot of great productions over the years, and I am very thankful for those terrific opportunities. Maybe one role I would like to tackle in the time I have left is Sweeney Todd. I am sure there are others, but that one comes to mind.
7. What is your advice for children who are interested in musical theatre? And how can parents best support that?
Start as young as you can to train your body and mind to compete. There is a lot of talent out there, and you have to be as good as you can be to put yourself in a position to succeed. Learning to play an instrument and taking dance classes are something to consider as well, and talking to people you know who can help you be in the right place at the right time. Parental support is also a major factor. I have always heard that persistence is necessary to overcome the many challenges and hurdles in this business.
8. When TBS runs its annual A Christmas Story marathon between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, do you tune in?
I am sure I will be, either by watching on TV or popping in a DVD! It is going to be a great show and a great holiday season!