DIVA TALK: Catching Up With Tony Nominee Erin Dilly, Star of A Christmas Story, The Musical

By Andrew Gans
09 Nov 2012

Dilly as Mother
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: How did you get involved with Christmas Story?
Dilly: I had just finished the run of Nice Work, and my agent kind of grabbed me in the wings, and he said, "I'm working on something." I said, "Alright." I had just heard rumblings that they hadn't found the Mother yet, and I called him on Monday, and I was like, "Is this…?" And, he's like, "Yeah, that's what I'm working on." It was a fairly fast process. I went in about a week after I finished Nice Work, and I got Christmas Story. [Laughs.] I had, for a long time, taken my focus off of musical theatre, largely because film and television is just an easier way to raise kids. I could work episodically, and I can get the most fantastic health-care coverage for them, but I just started to miss being on stage. I really, more than anything, missed the Broadway community. I love walking in the stage door and seeing the people I've worked with for 15 years, and the love and care that Broadway has for each other… It's something I never experienced in film or television, for sure. It was pretty quick. I went in. I got the call about an hour later. My agent actually said something funny. He said, "Now, you've seen 'Christmas Story'?" I said, "Yes, I have." He goes, "Because this is iconic in my family, so the role you are being bestowed with…you can't screw this up!" [Laughs.] I said, "I won't!" And, it's true… It could be intimidating because I think those film performances are impeccable and absolutely iconic perfection, but I kind of realized in the first week of rehearsals, I didn't have to reach too terribly hard for the character because she is kind of me. She's trying to optimistically manage chaos all the time, and that's my life. That's me and Stephen and Cady… I mean, I do literally have Ralphie and Randy, they just happen to be little girls. It's identical!

Question: Is the stage production different from the film? How much difference is there — in your role as well?
Dilly: You know what is interesting? It is similar enough to please the film purists, but it has its own original heart, via the fact that it's a musical, and it has this unbelievably inventive, gorgeous score by Pasek and Paul. I know that they kind of burst onto the scene, and they were on the rise with Dogfight… These boys can write… Oh, my gosh! They have this unbelievable wisdom and insight that surpasses their very young ages. I walked in and said, "I could be your babysitter! Both of you!" [Laughs.] But they write as though they both have had children… They just have unbelievable insight and profound storytelling gifts actually. I think that is going to be the element that really surprises people about this production. It will have all the pieces that make everybody happy, like, "Oh, there's the pink bunny rabbit suit, and there's the mashed potato scene," but then there's this score that is so smart and so funny and so full of heart. I feel like I kind of won the lottery.

Clockwise from top left: Dilly, John Bolton, Johnny Rabe and Zac Ballard
photo by Carol Rosegg

Question: How would you describe Mother as she is written in the musical?
Dilly: I really see her as the heartbeat. She's the grounding heartbeat of the family. [Laughs.] It's not unlike my own life. I'm always getting somebody fed, somebody clothed, somebody bathed or somebody to bed, but trying to do it with an awareness of the fact that these experiences, even though they're hard, and even though they're every family's struggle, and there's never enough money, that these moments are fleeting. I'm only going to get to see Ralphie in a bunny suit once — one Christmas. I'm only going to get to stuff my boy into the snowsuit one season, and then he'll be like, "I got it, Mom!" So she's heart. She radiates this warmth, and then every once and a while, she'll have this ironic sly sense of humor about all of it that I always think is a lovely surprise. You think she's kind of just holding down the fort, and then she'll say something a little bit kooky… All moms are a little crazy — you have to be — to maintain the level of multitasking that all of us are maintaining. Crazy in a good way! [Laughs.]

Question: Tell me about working with John Rando. Have you worked with him before?
Dilly: I always feel like I've worked with him more than I have because he's like my soul-mate director. We did a play together about ten years ago called Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight Off-Broadway, and I think it was just as he was kind of exploding onto the scene, and I just thought, "Who is this funny, warm, intelligent, kind man who likes to get in the sandbox and play?" He's not a man who sits behind the table and just pontificates or points. He gets up and puts on the costumes and puts on the hats and throws himself into pratfalls. He's so unbelievably inspiring to be with, and he has such a handle, particularly, on this material because he has a 14-year-old boy. And so the whole Dad-Randy-Ralphie connection, he's just living it. He's walking around breathing it, and the fact that Rando always has heart — always he leads with heart — but he's so funny. He's so funny, personally, and he sees humor in almost everything he does. I think he's like the absolute perfect hand to guide this.