PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER: Peter Billingsley, the Original Ralphie of "A Christmas Story," Takes Aim at Broadway

By Adam Hetrick
13 Nov 2012

Johnny Rabe plays Ralphie on Broadway
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Adapting this as a musical seems like a no-brainer with so many other film-to-musical titles on Broadway. Were you wary about getting involved? Do you feel protective of the property?
PB: I felt very close to the material. I've been asked or approached in the past about adaptations. When something is as successful or big as a brand, people really want to do things. I didn't have any interest and hadn't had any interest. I know there's something they're calling the sequel and I don't know how, considering that the two filmmakers are dead. So, I don't know how in any way it's the official sequel, but anyway, perhaps it is. I haven't seen it and I don't intend to.

The idea of a musical was very, very inspiring to me because it's really an extension of the story. I don't think you want to remake the story. They did a pretty good job the first go-round. But Ralphie was very much a dreamer in the film. So many of those fantasy sequences lend themselves so well to the big Broadway song-and-dance pieces. And that's really what it is. When the dad wins the leg lamp, it turns into a leg-lamp kick line.

The musical takes all those great moments of excitement and blows them out into larger levels. So, that was the first time I was really inspired to do anything with it. Fans are protective of the title and of the brand. Probably moreseo than me. For them it's a tradition, it's something they watch. So, for them, it works and I don't think they need anything else on the big or small screen that really represents that. But the response has been overwhelmingly positive for fans who have seen the musical because... it carefully reminds them of what they loved in the film. It has all the set pieces in there that they want to see, there's the tongue that gets stuck on the pole, the leg lamp, but they're presented in a really fun musical ensemble/dance way. It's very much a complementary piece. We hope it becomes a tradition much like the film. Going to this musical will be a tradition for families.

Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Your songwriting team, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, weren't even born when the film premiered. They're tremendously talented, but did you feel like this was a risk, hiring two writers still in their twenties to deliver a full-out Broadway show?
PB: I think you always win in storytelling when you let the best creative ideas guide you. These guys submitted some songs to us that were the most inspired music we had heard from anybody. You're right, you could look and think there's somewhat of an inexperience of an age, but when you spend time with Benj and Justin, they make you feel so comfortable. They're so smart, they're so connected with the story, and with the intentions, and they're so talented. There might have been a moment where we said, "You know these guys are young," but you know what, that's wonderful. Their energy and their point of view has helped give this piece an energy and a youthful point of view. But their songs are also sophisticated, and they're fun, and they're interesting, and they're satisfying. You don't want to outthink yourself. They flat-out earned it. They did the best songs, they did the best job, and they were clearly the right fit for it. At the end of the day it was an easy decision. It was so clear how bright of a future they were going to have. They're going to have a really long and prosperous career, so the truth is we feel lucky to have them. We're glad they wanted to collaborate with us.