Ralphie hits the stage
Instead of getting shot in the eye, Peter Billingsley is calling the shots. The 41-year-old actor and director — who portrayed the bespectacled Ralphie in 1983′s “A Christmas Story” — is now producing the film’s adaptation on Broadway. This is the fourth year the show has run, the third year that Billingsley has been involved, and the first year it has appeared on Broadway. He explains why Ralphie was the perfect character for the stage and which scenes were most fun to re-create.
You had been approached about adapting “A Christmas Story” before, but you said you were never interested. Why was this the right opportunity?
I knew that there had been some notions of doing either sequels or remakes. I thought it was a really bad idea — why would you remake a great movie? But to do an adaptation to a new format that allows you to go to places that the film couldn’t because of [format restrictions]; that was exciting. And the notion of a musical was particularly exciting because this film has sort of an eccentric tone to it. There are a lot of fantasy sequences. Ralphie’s a dreamer. It was the perfect character for musical theater.
Were there any scenes you were particularly excited to bring to the stage?
“Ralphie to the Rescue” is a fun classroom fantasy which is similar to the one when the robbers come over the fence and he’s protecting his family — it’s that little cowboy moment in the movie, but we turn it into a major Western hoedown. I think that’s why audiences like it, because they don’t feel that it betrays the movie. You owe them a flagpole scene. You owe them a turkey. You owe them a Chinese restaurant. They want to see those scenes because that’s what in the film.
Did you have any concerns about adapting the film?
I’m very protective [of the material], so I think that there was a lot of stuff that I wanted to make sure stayed true to the movie. I knew Bob Clark very well — he directed the movie — so I always felt that I had a lot of insight into it and what the filmmakers had wanted. The one thing I was concerned about was I didn’t want audiences to feel like, oh, here’s just a retread off a successful movie.
The kids in the show are all so talented. As a former child actor, did you give them any showbiz advice?
I always tell them enjoy it, because if it’s not enjoyed there’s no point in doing it. … Gosh, when I was kid doing commercials it was a very different business. I was before Macaulay Culkin. There was kids prices. He was the first kid to get adult prices. Now, these Disney Channel kids are making more than the adults are. I think that puts an awful lot of pressure on at a very young age.
Do you still have your BB gun?
I do. It’s probably very valuable, I guess. I keep some of my memorabilia at a climate-controlled storage facility. The bunny suit is there as well.
Do you still watch the film when it comes on TV?
You know, I have studied the film just over the last few years in relation to the musical, but it’s more fast-forwarding to scenes and kind reminding myself of certain things. It’s kind of a point of analysis now. [Laughs] But invariably on Christmas [my family] will turn it on and I’ll stop and watch it and kind of enjoy it. … I’m pretty familiar with it at this point.
If you go
Peter Billingsley co-produced “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” playing through Dec. 30 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 W. 46th St.). For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.achristmas