Best Bets: ‘A Christmas Story’ to be told at Caesar Rodney High

The cast of Caesar Rodney High’s “A Christmas Story” includes, from left, Joy Phillips as Ralphie’s father, Haydee Byars-Weiser as Ralphie’s mother, Tony Arrington as Santa Claus, Colby Crawford as adult Ralph, David Randdell as young Ralphie and Lucas Paret as Randy. Shows continue Friday night at 7 and Saturday at 6 p.m. (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Muller)

The Caesar Rodney High School Stage Crew and Thespians usher in the holiday season this weekend with the classic tale “A Christmas Story.”

Jean Shepherd’s semi-autobiographical account, as adapted for the stage by Philip Grecian, tells the tale of 9-year-old Ralphie Parker and his quest to receive a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas.

Ralphie’s request is rejected by his mother, his teacher and also a department store Santa Claus, who all tell him “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

The show, which started Thursday night, continues Friday night at 7 and Saturday at 6 p.m. at the school on Old North Road in Camden.

For director John Muller, staging “A Christmas Story” has been a longtime dream for a few reasons.

“It’s one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. At Caesar Rodney, we pick the shows based on talent. We look at what we think the kids can do as opposed to what would be a good moneymaker or what will bring in the crowds. We look at what will make the kids feel good about themselves,” he said.

“Plus, my dad passed away a few years ago and it was his favorite movie of all time. So this is an opportunity to do something in his memory.”

While taking into account the talents of the 19-member cast, Mr. Muller said the 13-person stage crew was also put to the task, designing the expansive sets for the show.

“There is a tremendous amount of set building and artistry that goes beyond the actors. There’s a good mix of all of that. We needed kids who were good artists and good at drawing. One of our seniors built an entire section of the stage,” he said, pointing to Santa’s department store headquarters.

“We came and helped at the end and put in the finishing touches but his skill set is in building. The kids will slide down the slide just like in the movie.”

Also just like in the movie, the show features the iconic leg lamp, which was ordered straight from the actual “Christmas Story” house in Cleveland.

And, oh yes, be prepared for some snow.

From left, Colby Crawford (Ralph), Ryan Limbaugh (Flick), Alexis Burris (Esther Jane Alberry), Emily Mateja (Helen Weathers), David Ransdell (Ralphie) and Tryston Bellon (Schwartz) at the rehearsal of “A Christmas Story.” (Special to the Delaware State News/Ariane Mueller)

The 1983 film has been a holiday television staple for more than three decades. Since 1997, a movie marathon has been broadcast annually on TNT and/or TBS, comprising 12 consecutive airings on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The familiarity that the audience has with the story brings with it some special challenges, Mr. Muller said.

“We watched the movie before we started. We told the kids that there are things that the audience will expect to see that we’ll have to deliver,” Mr. Muller said.

“We’ve told the kids that they don’t have to copy the performances from the movie but they do have to be cognizant of certain things. For instance, Ralphie has some mannerisms that people will remember.”

Playing young Ralphie is sophomore David Ransdell, who says that he’s made an effort not to duplicate the film portrayal by Peter Billingsley but there are some similarities that can’t be helped.

“I’ve been told I kind of look like him,” said the bespectacled David. “But I think I play him a little bit more dramatically than he is in the movie.”

David said he got the theater bug in eighth grade performing in a literature class while a student at St. John’s Lutheran School in Dover.

“The minute I got on stage, I could see the look on the faces in the audience, including my parents. I didn’t know I could act at all and right then I think I found my calling,” said David, who has made it his goal to become a cast member on “Saturday Night Live.”

David Ransdell plays Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” at Caesar Rodney High School.

Junior Haydee Byars-White plays Ralphie’s mother, a role portrayed by Melinda Dillon in the movie. She said the difference between her portrayal and the film role is that she thinks she’s a bit more motherly.

“I feel a connection to her because I feel like I’m a very motherly person,” said Haydee, who is the oldest of five children with another sibling on the way.

One of the biggest differences between the film and the stage play is the appearance of adult Ralphie, who in the movie was an offscreen voice provided by Mr. Shepherd.

In the stage version, freshman Colby Crawford occupies a corner of the stage as he recounts Ralphie’s favorite Christmas.

Colby, who previously portrayed young Ralphie in a Second Street Players’ production in Milford, says he was initially disappointed he didn’t get picked for the same role at Caesar Rodney.

“But then I realized he has a much bigger part. He’s onstage by a bench almost the whole show. Although they did confine me to a small part of the stage since I was doing too much pacing,” he said.

Another difference is the casting of female Audree Wells to play the male bully.

“You absolutely cannot tell the difference,” Mr. Muller said. “She has embodied the role.”

Mr. Muller said the leadup to this weekend’s shows has gone smoothly especially given the relatively large cast.

“It’s such a fun, joyful story. It’s not heavy. Everybody comes in with smiles. I’ve been so blessed every year to have such a great group of kids,” he said.

Mr. Muller said he hopes that the fun and the fellowship the cast and crew has experienced will translate to the audience.

“Every couple of years we do a holiday show to bring the community together. Our goal isn’t to just be concerned about what happens in these four walls. It’s to put together something that the community can be involved in as well,” said Mr. Muller, adding that the cast also includes Fifer Middle School student Lucas Paret as Ralphie’s friend Randy.

“This show is just cheerful and fun in a time when there is so much negativity. It’s a good opportunity to forget all that and come together. It’s not even that it’s about Christmas. It’s just a chance to tell a good story about family.”

Tickets for the show are $7 at the door. Discounted tickets for $5, plus a small online service charge, are available on the Thespian website at www.crscat.org.

An evening of song

Nashvillle-based singer/songwriter Michael Logen will share the stage with local performer Sol Knopf and Cassidy Catanzaro Friday at the Patchwork Playhouse and then perform solo Nov. 17 for the Sunroom Songwriters Series house concert, both in Dover. (Submitted photo)

As we told you last week, local singer/songwriter Sol Knopf will join Michael Logen and Cassidy Catanzaro in concert Friday at 7 at the Patchwork Playhouse in Dover.

Mr. Logen’s songs have been recorded by many artists including Jonny Lang, Kelly Clarkson, Mat Kearney, Brandon Heath, The Greencards, Paul Carrack, Will Hoge and Sister Hazel.

His songs have been featured on many TV shows including multiple placements on “Nashville”, “Suits”, “Parenthood”, “The Fosters” and “One Tree Hill”.

Tickets are $20 and can be obtained at www.solknopf.com. Patchwork Playhouse is at 140 Roosevelt Ave., Dover.

Dancing with the Stars

Tickets went on sale Thursday for the 10th annual Dancing with the Delaware Stars event set for Jan. 26 at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.

The Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club and Mom’s House of Dover are co-beneficiaries.

Dancing with the Delaware Stars pairs local celebrities with dance professionals to perform a judged dance routine similar to the hit television show. All dance couples vie for the coveted Mirror Ball trophy. Couples are judged based on dollars raised, judges score and votes from the public.

Event tickets – $60, includes cash bar reception with complimentary hors d’oeuvres, dance competition, dance party and 10 votes.

Dippold After Party tickets from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. are $25.

Visit www.dancingdestars.org to purchase tickets.

The teams are as follows:

•Jen Allen, First State Manufactured Housing Association executive director and Greg Breitkreitz, USA Dance/Barbara’s Dance Academy;

•Michelle Bergold, M&T Bank branch manager, and Kyle Sammons, Zumba fitness instructor, ZCom;

•Alan and Monica Garcia, owners of Premier Martial Arts;

•Dr. Robert Hartmann, Dedicated to Women, ObGyn, and Jessica Moyer, owner of Purposeful Life & Wellness Coaching;

•Lt. Col. Carlos Jayme, U.S. Air Force commander, 436th Communications Squadron, and Jennifer Jayme, speech-language pathologist teletherapist;

•Jacqueline Mayan, Eastern Shore Natural Gas, senior manager, commercial business and marketing, and Raykeem Ward, founder of Dreams of Hope and ELA teacher, Postlethwait Middle School;

•James Pennewell, Delaware Department of Education, education associate, and Chana Weeks, Key Advisors Group, LLC;

•Jackson Paradee, senior, Salesianum High School, and Rebecca Gasperetti, Miss Hockessin 2018;

•Ron Vascik, CPA, RF Book & Associates managing partner, and Lisa Lamarche, CFP, CPA, Milestone Wealth Advisors, president and senior financial advisor;

•Trey Wallace Pratt Insurance, account executive, and Mandy Pennington, lead nurse, RN Neonatal Care Unit, Christiana Care.

Now Showing

New in theaters this weekend are the suspense-thrillers “A Private War” and “Widows,” J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” and the comedy “Instant Family.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the comedy “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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