To call Keith Larson a superfan of “A Christmas Story” might be an understatement.
The San Jose native still remembers that clear winter day as a 9-year-old in 1983, when the power tripped off in his neighborhood without a known reason.
On a whim, the family decided to hit the movie theater, where their options were “A Christmas Story” or an action flick whose name has been lost to time.
They chose Bob Clark’s comedic holiday romp, not knowing at the time that it would have such a powerful impact on pop culture. It turned out to be a good decision, to say the least.
“We said, ‘let’s give this show a shot,’” Larson recalled. “We were howling through the entire film. It’s become a staple in my family.”
Since then, Larson and his family have watched “A Christmas Story” annually, some years even more than once. When his son in 2019 had the opportunity to travel to Cleveland, Ohio as part of a baseball team, Larson said there were two stops they had to make: the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the home where “A Christmas Story” was filmed.
When Larson had the opportunity to audition as The Old Man in South Valley Civic Theatre’s upcoming performance of “A Christmas Story,” he was able to check off an accomplishment on his bucket list when he was chosen to play the iconic role.
“A Christmas Story” opens Nov. 18 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Road. Showtimes are 8pm Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 10, with 2pm performances on Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.
The movie, and later the play, is based off of humorist Jean Shepherd’s memoir of childhood in the 1940s, following 9-year-old Ralphie Parker who dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas.
Allie Bailey has recently found herself the go-to director for Christmas shows, including directing holiday performances in back-to-back years for Los Altos Stage Company, as well as 2021’s “A Nice Family Christmas” for Limelight by South Valley Civic Theatre.
“I really love Christmas,” she said. “There’s a feeling in the air this time of the year that makes me happy, excited and spurs creativity.”
Bailey said her approach with “A Christmas Story” was to showcase things that diehard fans have come to expect, such as a 1940s setting, the BB gun, the bunny suit, and of course, Ralphie’s glasses.
But at the same time, she added some nuances that are unique for SVCT’s performance, such as increasing the cast from 11 to 15, while adding an actual Santa Claus character as opposed to just his voice. Santa, meanwhile, will be greeting guests in the lobby.
The cast has been rehearsing since early October, building their chemistry to make their familial bonds seem believable while they are on stage. Bailey said the cast consists of five adults and 10 children, ages 10-17.
“Trying to bring together all those different life experiences to create a cohesive theater family has been a rewarding challenge,” she said. “They’re really putting in so much detail, so much character work, that it lifts the story off the page.”
Bailey added that Matthew Horta shines in his role as Ralphie.
“You can’t not watch him,” she said.
Larson said he had always viewed “A Christmas Story” through the lens of the children. But now as a father of two, he completely relates with his character, who was portrayed by actor Darren McGavin in the original film.
“Not only did I love what he did before, I have a whole new appreciation for how brilliant his performance was,” he said. “Now I see the behaviors of Ralphie and Randy in my boys. It’s hysterical. When you watch the movie and see Darren looking exasperated, I know that look. I know that desire for peace and quiet.”
Larson noted that “A Christmas Story” is more than just a distraction from everyday life.
“It’s a reminder that the world is an imperfect place, and that’s OK,” he said. “Yes, it’s about the stress of the holidays, but this story is really about familial love. It’s wonderful.”
“A Christmas Story” runs Nov. 18-Dec. 10 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse. For information and tickets, visit svct.org/2022_christmas.