It all comes down to Christmas for Dan Lauria in A Christmas Story, The Musical, now playing on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.
As the narrator, or A Christmas Story author Jean Shepherd, Lauria remembers his imaginative childhood at Christmas time set to jaunty tunes and thrillingly fun dance numbers. The Lindenhurst native is most well-known for his role as grumpy dad Jack Arnold on The Wonder Years, but as little Ralphie’s alter-ego on the live stage, he couldn’t be more different.
“Years ago I did an Off-Broadway play with [A Christmas Story star] Darren McGavin, and I remember seeing the show mainly because of him,” says Lauria when trying to recall his first memory of A Christmas Story.“Whenever I think of the movie I always think of him.”
Despite his connection to McGavin, Lauria found his way to the new musical via a different path.
“Peter Billingsley, who is the original Ralphie, is the producer of Sullivan & Sons, the TV show I’m doing,” he said. “When Peter called me I said, ‘Look, Peter, I can’t sing a note, I’m terrible even in the shower. I’m too old to dance.' Peter said, ‘Oh you won’t have to. You’ll just sit in a radio booth and read a book. You don’t even have to learn your lines, we just want your voice,’” Lauria recalled, chuckling, as most of these statements turned out to be untrue.
“I said, ‘As long as I don’t have to sing, I’ll do it.’”
Lauria didn’t know what he was getting himself into, but he’s happy he took on the well-received show. Not only does he have to do some light dancing, he spends his scenes moving around the stage relaying his memorized lines. Lauria brings a tremendous amount of heart to the production, in part because he can relate to young Ralphie.
“Ralphie always wanted his dad’s acknowledgement of him becoming a man,” he said. “I like that he was always trying to get his dad’s best wishes, or his dad’s reward. I remember when I’d play ball. If I got a homerun or something I’d always look at my dad and see him glowing. I loved that part of it.”
And the musical brings back fond memories of growing up in Lindenhurst.
“I had the best childhood,” Lauria said. “I remember going to school, and when that bell rang at 3, no one went home. We were all involved; we had so many extracurricular things. It’s not like today when kids are working 40 hours each week to help support the family. The whole experience of growing up in Lindenhurst was great.”
Lauria recalls one of his favorite memories from his days in his hometown. “My father was a truck driver, and he showed up at football practice one day wearing greasy pants and his slippers. I thought ‘Oh no.’ But then I looked at all the other fathers and they were all the same way. They all worked at Grumman’s, they all had greasy pants. They all looked the same! That was a good time.”
Lauria will be spending Christmas on Broadway this year, as A Christmas Story, The Musical closes its limited run on December 30.
The actor reminisced about his Christmases on Long Island. “Holidays were very traditional. My mother was so Italian that on Thanksgiving you had lasagna with your turkey,” he said. “Although we weren’t religious, Christmas Eve was about the only day my mother could get me and my dad to go to church, which was right on Wellwood Avenue.”
But did he ever receive his own “Red Ryder BB gun,” a la Ralphie? “My parents were so nice, I had no idea we were poor until I was in college,” he says of his best Christmas gifts. “I always got the same thing- pants, underwear, socks. But then I got this one gift, and it was always something I wanted, like a baseball glove, or a bat and ball, or a football. I was a jock. It was usually a pretty good [piece of equipment], you know? That made it special.”
Lauria’s parents have since passed away, but his extended family are still his biggest fans. “My Aunt Millie came to see me in A Christmas Story,” he says. “She’s 102 and sharp as a tack! She said, ‘It was so good to see you in a musical! I’m so glad they didn’t let you sing.’” Lauria laughs. “She said, ‘We have to be the only Italian family with an Italian who can’t sing.’”
A Christmas Story, The Musical is playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street) through December 30th. Tickets may be purchased at TicketMaster.com, (877) 250-2929, or in person. Visit www.AChristmasStoryTheMusical.com for more information.
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