Dallas — Once upon a time, when It's A Wonderful Life was in the public domain, it was possible to turn on the television on any given day from Thanksgiving to Christmas and see what is often considered to be the iconic movie of the season. It's safe to say that another movie has taken the classic's place as the movie tradition for many during the holiday season. There's even a 24-hour marathon of it that spans Christmas Eve and Christmas Day on TBS. People quote lines from it. It has an instantly recognizable prop, the infamous leg lamp (which you can buy, if you so desire, in actual form and as Christmas ornaments or strings of lights). The beloved tale of Ralphie's quest for an official Red Ryder BB gun started as a short story by Jean Shepherd in his collection of stories called In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, then became a 1983 movie and a play in 2000. In 2012, the story became a Broadway musical and earned three Tony nominations. The national tour of A Christmas Story, The Musical opened Tuesday night at the Music Hall at Fair Park, brought to town by Dallas Summer Musicals for a two-week run. TheaterJones caught up with Christopher Swan, who in his mid-40s in real life, plays The Old Man; the day after their Dallas opening to talk about the show and being a Christmasy guy.
How long have you been with the tour?
Well, I got off a cruise ship in June or July, then I auditioned in New York and got the role. We started rehearsals the first week of October and got to spend a whole week with just mom, dad and the Ralphies, so we got a real feel for the family. Then, we brought in the ensemble and all the kids to rehearse before we headed out the beginning of November. We've made two stops before this one in Dallas.
How does it feel to be referred to in the show as "The Old Man?"
Some people who don't know the movie very well have asked me how I can be playing an old man, and I have to explain it to them. It's a really wonderful device that Jean Shepherd used in his story that Ralphie refers to his dad as the old man. Really the only way you know the father's name is a couple of times when the mom refers to him as Frank, and some people in town talk about him as Frank Parker. So, yes, I am The Old Man, but in quotation marks.
Do you share any traits with The Old Man, like a fondness for crossword puzzles or turkey?
Absolutely! It's funny that you mentioned those two because I love both those things. Sometimes we play a game about what's the one food you could eat for the rest of your life, and I can honestly say that mine is turkey. I love Thanksgiving dinner, so that part in the show with the turkey and stuffing, that's not acting. Also, I keep several crosswords handy, and recently when I picked one up, the first clue was for Jean Shepherd. I thought that was a good omen for our run in Dallas.
What can audiences expect from A Christmas Story, The Musical?
They can expect all of the classic moments from the movie, which is great, but also lots more. The fantasy sequences that Ralphie has and the ones about his fears are all expanded as well as The Old Man's fantasy about being a winner. They're all in these colorful production numbers with singing and dancing, and they're quite wonderful. You really have to look at the musical as its own entity. It's kind of the next level of the stage play version.
Does The Old Man have a song in the show?
Yes, two actually, both in the first act. The first one is when he's trying to finish that last crossword to submit to win a major award. And then the other one is called "A Major Award" when he actually wins. The number is a total fantasy about being on top and winning and having everyone in praise of him and his accomplishment.
How do audiences react to the show?
Very positively. Of course, I get a lot of the classic lines from the movie, so I have joked that I could be the worst actor in the world and still get a laugh. It's a really good production, and I'm proud to be part of it.
What is your favorite moment in the show?
It's hard to say. There some wonderful, tender moments, which as an actor, I really enjoy. There's a makeup scene with my stage wife after the leg lamp incident, and I love the Christmas morning scene when (spoiler alert) Ralphie gets his gun.
Where will you spend Christmas?
We will be in St. Louis, and we'll be there for three weeks, which will be nice not to be running on to a new venue. I'm a real Christmasy guy, so I'm hoping to make my hotel room really Christmasy with a tree and be able to play music and watch my holiday movies.
Other than A Christmas Story, do you have a favorite Christmas movie?
I actually did a one-man show in recent years that's a salute to It's A Wonderful Life where I play all of the characters, so I would say that movie runs a close second.
What are some of your Christmas traditions?
Another movie I have to watch every year, and that I highly recommend, is Scrooge. It's a musical with Albert Finney that really captures that Dickensian type of Christmas. I always toast the memory of my grandfather with a glass of eggnog. I love eggnog. I love in the show that we have that old-fashioned Christmas tree with the big fat bulbs and the tinsel. That's the kind of tree we had from my childhood, and I remember it so well.
What was the thing that you just had to have for Christmas when you were a kid?
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Star Wars, so my version of Ralphie's BB gun was the Millennium Falcon, the full-sized one that holds the action figures. But I thought it was too big and expensive to ask for. Then on that Christmas morning -- I'll never forget it -- I unwrapped that box, and there it was! I hadn't come right out and asked for it. I had dropped hints here and there like Ralphie, but I never expected to see it.
At least Swan's mom didn't have to worry about the Millennium Falcon putting his eye out. A Christmas Story runs at the Music Hall through Dec. 14.