There are those who may remember “A Christmas Story” as a short story by humorist Jean Shephard that first appeared in the pages of Playboy Magazine, or subsequent incarnations in Shepherd’s radio show, or his novel, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”. That said, it’s likely the story is best remembered from the 1983 movie adaptation starring a bespectacled Peter Billingsley as young Ralphie Parker as he sets out on a quest to find a Red Ryder B.B. gun under his Christmas tree. For Nashville theatrical fans, however, “A Christmas Story” has become synonymous with Nashville Repertory Theatre, as they’ve presented a truly charming, completely hilarious stage version for seven years now. Not ones to disappoint, Nashville Rep is about to gift the Nashville theatre community once again with their annual presentation of “A Christmas Story”. With an all-new cast previewing the show Friday, November 27 and officially running Saturday, November 28 thru Sunday, December 20, I decided to chat with Megan Murphy Chambers, Curtis Reed, Mikey Rosenbaum and Derek Whittaker, four of the talented members of Nashville Rep’s “A Christmas Story” for my latest Rapid Fire 20 Q to ask about their roles in the show as well as a few of their favorite personal holiday memories.
Rapid Fire 5 with Megan Murphy Chambers, Mother in “A Christmas Story”
JONATHAN PINKERTON: You know you’re one of my ‘theatre crushes’, but I have to confess, I’m more use to seeing you in musicals, rather than straight non-musical plays. Of course Nashville Rep’s “A Christmas Story” is not a musical. What drew you to the role of Ralphie’s Mom?
MEGAN MURPHY CHAMBERS: Everything about this production appeals to me so much – I love that a small group of actors plays a huge number of characters, I love how much we the performers have to support each other to make it a success, and I love the material. I would have accepted any role to be part of it, so I guess it’s fortunate that I wound up in the only female part. It’s such a joy to play, especially amongst this talented and hilarious group.
JP: This holiday season marks Nashville Rep’s seventh year to present this show. From what I understand, you and your costars make up an all-new cast. Traditionally, Mrs. Parker seems relatively easy-going, but at the same time, a total Smother Mother where her boys are concerned. Having gotten to know you a little over the past several years, I suspect you’ll be bringing a bit of your spitfire personality to the role, yes?
MEGAN MURPHY CHAMBERS: I hope so! Mother is saltier than you might expect, which makes her sweet moments that much more poignant (again, I hope!). She’s everyone’s favorite flavor combination, and if that balance translates to the audience, I’ll be thrilled.
JP: The show takes place in the years just prior to the 1950s, my favorite era, and Nashville Rep’s costume department always does spectacular work. Is there one piece of Mrs. Parker’s wardrobe you’d like to find under your Christmas tree this year?
MEGAN MURPHY CHAMBERS: I inherited this role from the marvelous Jamie Farmer, who played Mother for the last six years. Much to my (and the wardrobe team’s) surprise, the beautiful red dress built for her fit me like a glove. That means I get to keep it after the show closes, right? Right?
JP: Oh, I’m sure. Speaking of under the Christmas tree, “A Christmas Story”, at its core is about the ideal of the perfect Christmas. Do you have a favorite Christmas memory?
MEGAN MURPHY CHAMBERS: When I was probably six or seven, my family was going to be out of town on Christmas day. To my utter joy and amazement, Santa KNEW about our travel plans and came to our house two days early. I still remember the shock and thrill of coming downstairs on what should have been a normal day and finding that Christmas had come. It was truly wonderful.
JP: Everyone knows Mrs. Parker was the first to utter the now famous line, “You’ll shoot your eye out”, but the show if filled with brilliantly funny writing. Do you have another favorite line?
MEGAN MURPHY CHAMBERS: The passages taken straight from Jean Shepherd’s essays are poetic and evocative and charming, so I love listening to Derek’s narration every night. But I think my favorite lines are when the Old Man “swears”. The word substitutions in this script are hilarious; I come from a long line of foul-mouthed Irishmen and have a true fondness for listening to someone go on a delicious, obscene tear.
Rapid Fire 5 Q with Curtis Reed, Randy Parker in “A Christmas Story”
JP: While you’ve been busy in tons of shows the past few years, your role as Randy, Ralphie’s younger brother in “A Christmas Story” marks your Nashville Rep debut How exciting is that?
CURTIS REED: I am beyond excited as well as humbled to be making my Nashville Rep debut with none other than a time honored classic which has been a staple for the Rep for over 6 years. To be a part of a brand new cast since the shows initial inception and to be surrounded with an immensely talented cast and a fantastic production team is truly a dream come true. I am having the time of my life working with Rene Copeland on what we fondly refer to as “A Christmas Story: 2.0”.
JP: I have to admit something….I hadn’t even seen “A Christmas Story”, the movie until last year. Do you remember your first introduction to “A Christmas Story”?
CURTIS REED: As a recent transplant to Nashville, and moving to the city at the end of September 2014, I had not gotten a chance to see the live stage version of A Christmas Story that Nashville Rep produced last season so coming into this, I was completely new to it. I am quite familiar with the movie, however, and my family would watch it every year around the holiday season. It’s actually my aunt’s all-time favorite Holiday movie so we would watch it quite often together. So you could say I have my aunt to thank for that!
JP: While you play Ralphie’s younger brother, you, yourself are the oldest of three siblings, having a younger brother and a younger sister. Are you drawing any traits from your own younger siblings for the role?
CURTIS REED: I am most definitely picking up some idiosyncrasies that my younger brother used to do at Randy’s age (which is 6). I am actually having way too much fun reverting back to our childhood and finding moments that I can remember of my younger brother to incorporate to the character. I also want to stay true to the essence of the character Randy from the movie which most people are familiar with. Randy has some of the best Physical moments within the movie and I want to make sure that they come to life on the stage as well.
JP: On the subject of Randy’s physicality, one of my favorite scenes in “A Christmas Story” is when Randy is forced by his Mom to don a snowsuit. What’s yours?
CURTIS REED: The snowsuit is most definitely iconic and it’s one of my favorite scenes in the stage version. I would have to say my favorite from the movie would be the “eat like a piggy” scene which makes an appearance in the stage version as well, although luckily it isn’t done with actual food; otherwise, i’d be covered in it by the end of the scene. I tend to go “hog wild” with it. Pun intended.
JP: What’s your fondest Christmas memory?
CURTIS REED: Believe it or not, this question is harder than it seems! If we are talking favorite childhood Christmas memory, I’d have to say it was the year I received a goldfish under the tree. (when your parents are allergic to pet dander, a goldfish is the next best thing to a puppy, and I was beyond thrilled!) My fondest family memory would have to be the year that I convinced my younger sister to drive back and forth to NYC when I was living there to record a Christmas CD of the two of us and a few friends that my mother had been begging for for about 4 years prior. We even had a photo-shoot and compiled a CD cover for it. We wrapped it up in a sweater box so she wouldn’t suspect and when she opened it up, she burst into tears of joy. That was hands down the BEST Christmas present I ever gave to someone else. And finally, my favorite Christmas memory as an adult would have to be the first Christmas I got to spend with my husband. We were renting a house on a lake in MA. Putting up the tree in front of our sliding glass door with a view of the lake and all the twinkling lights reflecting in it and sharing that moment hanging our very first Christmas ornament together; it was perfect!
Rapid Fire 5 Q with Mikey Rosenbaum, Flick in “A Christmas Story”
JP: You got your start at Nashville Rep as part of their acting intern program. Can you tell me a little about that experience?
MIKEY ROSENBAUM: Yes, I did! I loved it. After graduation from Belmont and a summer working at a camp, I was eager but not quite ready for the real world life of a professional actor. Getting to work with and around local working artists who I truly respected was a crash course in regional theater for me. I’d recommend it to any young actors!
JP: As Ralphie’s pal, Flick, you get to reenact one of “A Christmas Story”‘s most-loved scenes in which Flick is triple dared to lick a frozen flagpole to see if his tongue sticks. Be honest, after seeing the movie, did you ever try it in real life?
MIKEY ROSENBAUM: You know what, I must have thought about it. But, no, never on a frozen pole, thankfully. I wasn’t that dumb. I did run into a pole in high school, though…
JP: Speaking of ‘triple dares’, were you ever dared to do something crazy as a kid, and did you do it?
MIKEY ROSENBAUM: I still get dared to do crazy things! I rode a goat around a farm once.
JP: A goat, huh? OK, we’ll just leave it at that. Throughout the story, Flick and Ralphie endure a bit of bullying from Scut Farkus. Growing up, where you more like Flick, Ralphie or Scut?
MIKEY ROSENBAUM: Definitely more like Flick. I was shrimpy, usually the smallest kid in my class and I talked a lot. The perfect set up for becoming an actor. I was best friends with the most athletic kid, though, so I rarely got picked on.
JP: When I was about Flick and Ralphie’s age, I became obsessed with wanting a set of Six Million Dollar Man Walkie Talkies. That was my ‘Red Rider Ranger Air Rifle’–my ultimate gift from Santa. Did you ever have one gift that you just had to have?
MIKEY ROSENBAUM: I’ve thought a lot about this. I can’t recall a specific toy I obsessed over. I was more of a book guy. But I do remember getting a Talkboy. The portable variable-speed cassette player and recorder just like Macaulay Culkin had in the Home Alone movies. That was pretty great.
Rapid Fire 5 Q with Derek Whittaker, Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”
JP: Earlier, when I chatted with Megan, I mentioned that I’m use to seeing her in musicals. Meanwhile, I frequently see you portraying older character roles. How much fun are you having playing Ralphie?
DEREK WHITTAKER: Yes, I’ve been playing older characters for most of my career – the blessing and curse of a character actor – so taking on the role of “Ralphie” is a unique and welcome challenge. I love getting the chance to take this journey and see our world of Hohman, Indiana and the magic of Christmas through the bespectacled eyes of a nine year-old boy. Other than Linus in “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown” and the schoolhouse sketch in “Sugar Babies”, the opportunity to revisit my childhood hasn’t come around much and that’s been unfortunate as I’m just a big kid, when you get right down to it. I’m hoping my refusal to grow up will finally work to my advantage!
JP: Talking about refusing to grow up, you basically play two characters, or at least two versions of the same character. Of course you’re seen as Ralphie, the BB gun-dreaming kid, but then you also break the fourth wall to narrate the story as Ralph, the adult version of the play’s main character. Other than perhaps voice affectation, how do you differentiate the two?
DEREK WHITTAKER: There are many moments throughout the show when my character goes back and forth between “Ralphie” who is living in the moment of each particular memory and “Ralph”, the older version of the character who is looking back on those moments and memories. It’s a tricky dance. I don’t look at it as a matter of taking on a specific voice or physicality but rather, I hope to infuse the older character with the joy and exuberance and innocence of the childhood version of himself. Sights, sounds, smells and memories can so easily and so completely transport us to another place, another time – particularly our memories of holidays – and I think one of the magical things about “Ralph” is that “Ralphie” is still alive and well and, luckily, such a big part of his consciousness.
JP: Even those who may not been obsessed with “A Christmas Story” are familiar with the scene in which Ralphie’s Mom forces him to model his new pink bunny suit, a gift from Aunt Clara. How much fun is it to put on that costume?
DEREK WHITTAKER: As The Old Man says, I “look like a pink nightmare.” It’s worn only briefly and at the tail end…or should I say, “bunny tail end” of the show, so it’s not bad. It’s a great costume piece, beautifully designed and constructed. And it’s such an iconic image! I will say that it is a little tricky to get into gracefully but I do have help. You’ll see what I mean because we treat it very respectfully and we do the costume change in full view of the audience, embracing the storytelling aspect of the production and letting the audience delight in remembering either the scene from the film or their own “nightmare” Christmas gifts. Hopefully the folks in the house will be pulling for me and enjoy not only the end result but the process of my bunnification. And, thanks to many years spent as a server at Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre, I can do the Bunny Dip, but that’s another story.
JP: On the subject of the pink bunny suit, since hardly anyone ever reads my interviews anyway, spill it…..what’s the worst Christmas present you ever received?
DEREK WHITTAKER: The worst? I don’t know that I have one. I’m pretty easy to please. Toys and gadgets or socks and undies – a gift’s a gift, right? It’s the thought that counts, truly! I guess I tend to prefer practical gifts…and money. That’s it! Nashville theatregoers – please send money!
JP: Ralphie’s daydream fantasy sequences are a big part of “A Christmas Story” Do you have a favorite among them?
DEREK WHITTAKER: What I really adore about the fantasy sequences is that I get to watch my fellow ensemble members shine so brilliantly! Mikey Rosenbaum, Curtis Reed and Patrick Waller as a collective “Cowboy Conscience” are absolutely priceless and such fun to play with around the campfire. Antonio “Tony” Nappo as my childhood crush, Esther Jane, makes me smile and melts my heart every time. I also love the sequence with Miss Shields as she grades my Christmas essay, because I get to watch the brilliant Bobby Wyckoff mine comedy gold right before my eyes. Probably my favorite is the “blind Ralph” sequence when I’m tasked with keeping a straight face and somber mood, while witnessing such delicious and perfectly stylized comedy from both Bobby (The Old Man) and Megan Murphy Chambers (Mother). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I should be so lucky to have the brilliant Bobby and marvelous Megan as parents, as I would clearly be the Comedy Messiah!!
With that, my conversations with members of the cast of Nashville Rep’s “A Christmas Story” ended, but that’s truly just the beginning of this story as the curtain rises for an all-new look at an old favorite with a preview performance on Friday, November 27 and officially runs Saturday, November 28 through Sunday, December 20 with performances Wednesdays thru Sundays (including matinee and evening performances on Saturdays) at Nashville Rep’s Johnson Theatre inside TPAC at 505 Deadrick Street, Nashville, TN 37219. For tickets, Click Here.
For more about “A Christmas Story”, including a special message about the show from Nashville Rep’s producing artistic director, Rene Copeland, Click Here.
Throughout the entire run of Nashville Rep’s “A Christmas Story”, they are partnering with Ronald McDonald House Charities of Nashville to host a Hat, Mitten and Scarf Drive, encouraging theatre patrons to bring along these new items to be given to families currently staying at Nashville’s Ronald McDonald House. Patrons may also check out the Ronald McDonald House Family Room Wish List if they’d like to donate specific items including non-perishable pantry items and the necessities. Click Here to view the wish list.
If you’ve enjoyed this installment of Rapid Fire 20 Q, my recurring celebrity interview feature, be sure and click the ‘subscribe’ tab located near the close of this article to sign up for FREE email alerts whenever new content is posted to my Nashville Entertainment Column.