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Shooting Your Eye Out: Peter Billingsley on A Christmas Story: The Musical

Posted: 11/19/2012 4:25 pm

Every season it's delightfully unavoidable. It's on for 24-hours, and you watch it at least twice. It's kind of heroin for holiday spirit. Why wouldn't you want to see the leg lamp again? Bunny pajamas. The tongue on the pole. You'll shoot your eye out, kid. Yes, ever since A Christmas Story was released in 1983, it's been on repeat each December because it has as many classic moments as vintage holiday films like It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street. To remake that classic of Ralphie and his want, need, and desire for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle would be as blasphemous as remaking the aforementioned Jimmy Stewart classic or the Edmund Gwenn/Natalie Wood 1947 classic. Oh, wait.

Anyway, the film's original star and a spot-on creative team, however, found a new way to bring new life into the seasoned flick (notice how I'm ignoring the direct-to-video sequel that just dropped).

Peter Billingsley starred as Ralphie Parker in A Christmas Story, and now he's an exec producing a Broadway musical adaptation to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre from Nov. 5-Dec. 30. Talk about taking your career full circle. That's like me appearing in my Bar Mitzvah video, and then returning some 30 years later to... oh wait, bad analogy. Anyway, A Christmas Story: The Musical debuted in Seattle in 2010, and hit the Windy City a year later. It's directed by Urinetown Tony Award-winner John Rando and composed by the team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

I caught up with Billingsley the other day to talk about the show, and why so many of his films focus on Saint Nick -- he was after all an executive producer of Four Christmases with his pal Vince Vaughn and made a cameo for his other BFF Jon Favreau in the 2003 instant holiday classic Elf. But before we get to that, Billingsley isn't solely a holiday hogger. He's a respected fixture in Hollywood who survived being a child actor, and made his way as a heavy hitter -- executive producing Iron Man for Favreau as well as The Break-Up, and directing Couples Retreat. His other credits include Favreau's Dinner for Five series, which needs to make a comeback in my opinion, and is currently executive producing the TBS sitcom Sullivan & Son, which features his A Christmas Story: The Musical star Dan Lauria of The Wonder Years and Lombardi fame. OK, that's enough background. Let's get to this interview before someone shoots his eye out.

How long has the concept for A Christmas Story musical been around, and were you always involved?

It started at a repertory theater in Kansas City in 2009. I came on board just after for the Seattle shows in 2010 then we took it to Chicago where we had a great run last year. Now we are on Broadway for the first time! Our previews opened with Times Square blanketed in snow. It's definitely pretty exciting.

I can imagine. Are you hoping A Christmas Story, The Musical is a year-round thing on Broadway or is this a one-time shot?
With all due respect to the same seasonal stage shows we've grown up with and are still around, I think it's time for a new one to become a tradition just like watching the film has become for so many families. We have plans to take the show out nationally.

Pretty cool. On a related note, do you get sick of seeing yourself every holiday season on TV?
I'm far enough away from it now that I actually enjoy watching a little bit of the film. Our entire family gets together on Christmas and we have a full house of kids who like the film so the 24-hour marathon generally winds up on the TV at some point.

Can you tell me a story about working on the film that maybe you never told anyone else?
A lot of the crew liked to play poker at lunch during shooting. They'd let me into their game -- that's where I learned to play. There was only one rule: If I lost money I couldn't complain, but if I won, they couldn't either.

That just sounds like good advice. Off-topic when George Lucas and Disney announced that Lucasfilms was purchased by the mouse company, Internet rumors starting spreading that your bud Jon Favreau could be under consideration to direct Episode VII. Tell me why he'd be a good choice.

Really? I was told I was being considered for that job. Thanks for breaking my heart.

Sorry dude, let's um, shift gears and good job avoiding that question! Was the line "cotton-headed ninny muggins" adlibbed during Elf?

Nope. But a lot of people quote that line back to me. I know our group has a bit of a reputation for improv, but I don't remember a whole lot of going off book in that film. It was really a terrific script.

Is there any part of you that wants to make a new Christmas cinematic classic?

I have already done two Christmas films: Elf and Four Christmases. I guess I really am a sucker for Christmas. Both movies are really about the importance of family. I come from a brood of five kids and it's the one time of year we can all get together. It's hands down my favorite holiday.

That being said, let me give you with a forum to answer a very important question: What do you want for Christmas?

When I was a kid I really wanted a metal detector for Christmas, convinced I was going to find buried treasure and could retire at 12. Santa Claus brought me one, but sadly that treasure was never realized. It's amazing how many bottle caps you have to dig up. But to be honest, that dream is still alive.

That's odd. I asked for a brother for Christmas when I was like eight, but my parents weren't having any of it. I got a parakeet instead. But, anyway, now for the most important question: what do I want for Christmas?

Judging from your line of questioning you're most certainly on the naughty list. You better hope you don't get any coal.

 

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