Good Company Players knows a good thing when it sees it. That’s why the company is reviving last year’s hit “A Christmas Story: The Musical” again in time for the holiday season.
The production is pretty much the same, but there are some new cast members. I caught up with one of them, Ethel Birrell, to talk about what it’s like to immerse herself in the world of Ralphie Parker and his family.
Q: For those who missed last year’s production, give us a brief rundown on what it’s about.
A: The story revolves around a young boy named Ralphie, who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas against the better judgement of all the adults in his life. But more than that, it’s a coming of age story and it’s about the sometimes humorous, unspoken dynamics of a traditional family in the 1940’s. Ralphie has funny encounters with bullies, his father has delusions of grandeur, while his mother is the glue of the family. All, magically narrated by Jean and sprinkled with other fun characters and relationships throughout the show.
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Q: You’re new to the production. How many others in the cast were in last year’s show?
A: The show has about half of the performers returning from last year and the other half brand new to sharing this story on stage.
Q: Any differences other than cast changes between this year’s production and last year’s?
A: With half of the cast being new this year, it inherently brings different dynamics to the show. Every actor has their own interpretation of their given characters and moments which brings a refreshing and newness to this production.
Q: You play the female chief elf, which sounds like quite the coup of a role. Tell us about her. Is she the kind of, um, elf (I was going to say person) you’d like to hang with?
A: I am thrilled to be cast as the Female Chief Elf. She has her hang ups in life including having to work as an elf and being surrounded by LOUD and OBNOXIOUS, I mean ADORABLE children. She is rough on the edges with characteristics of a well known cartoon character named Grumpy. Would you like to hang out with her? Perhaps if you are someone who enjoys stale bread, rhubarb in their pie or balloons with nails inside!
Q: You also understudy the role of Mother. Is it hard being an in-cast understudy?
A: This is the first time that I have worked as an understudy, and in this case an in-cast understudy, and let me tell you it is no walk in the park. As an in-cast understudy, I had to learn my own assigned music, lines and blocking in addition to all of Mother’s responsibilities in the show. It is quite the challenge to juggle all roles, in my brain, at all times. I constantly keep the role of Mother fresh in my head by reciting lines and singing along as often as I can. It is a serious undertaking that I do not take lightly, especially since I have most recently been in shows where the understudy has had to perform. If that day comes, I am ready!
Q: Were you a fan of “The Christmas Story” movie when you were younger? If so, what was your favorite part?
A: “A Christmas Story” has been a staple in my family for years! It is a tradition to watch it every holiday season. My absolute favorite part in the movie is when Ralphie says “ heh, heh, just kidding” after asking his mother for a Red Ryder BB Gun at which she replied “you’ll shoot your eye out!” !! The “little piggy” moment with Randy is a close second.
Q: You’re always a dynamic presence on stage. Were you just born with that show-biz aptitude?
A: That’s very kind of you to say. My mother would say I was born with it, I would say I have always loved to entertain and make people laugh. One story that she shares frequently is when I was younger, I would be in the middle of performing for family or strangers at restaurants, family gatherings, grocery stores etc., and if not all eyes were on me, I would stop and wait till I had everyone’s attention and then continue performing.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself.
A: I studied theater at Fresno City College and received my B.A. in theater at California State University Sacramento. After I graduated college, I lived in southern California for a time and trained in Improv at The Groundlings in Los Angeles. These days I am fortunate to be at home with my 3 small children and to have a supportive, hardworking husband who encourages me to indulge in my passion of performing! It has been so fulfilling to be a part of Good Company Players.
Q: Have you ever gotten your tongue stuck on a metal pole?
A: I have only ever gotten my tongue stuck briefly on a very frozen popsicle. However, I did have a run in, literally, with a very hard, cold, metal light post! That wasn’t fun…at least that’s what I think…but I can’t remember much about that moment.
Q: Anything else you’d like to say?
A: “Catch the Season Spirit” with Good Company Players at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. You will no doubt leave with a smile and warmth in your heart!
A Christmas Story: The Musical
- Opens Thursday Nov. 10; runs through Jan. 8.
- Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater, 1226 N. Wishon Ave.
- www.gcplayers.com, 559-266-9494.