The Story Behind “A Christmas Story”

November 2, 2015

 Spencer Schultz

Assistant Editor of Production

It’s been a year of firsts for the Jamesville-DeWitt High School Music Department.

For the first time, the music department will put on “A Christmas Story -T he Musical” as their annual production. It’s also the first time the musical will be held in December, from Dec. 10-12, rather than the typical February release. 

Not only is this year’s “A Christmas Story” J-DHS’s first time holding the production, but it is also the first for any high school in the nation, says chorus teacher and choral director Beth Quackenbush.

Though the music department has paved the way for future productions in the school, and across the country, “A Christmas Story” hasn’t come without controversy.

Based off of the popular 1983 movie adaptation of author Jean Shepard’s humourous writings, “A Christmas Story – The Musical” takes place in 1940s Indiana, where a bespectacled boy named Ralphie has a big imagination and one wish: for a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. A kooky leg lamp, outrageous pink bunny pajamas, a cranky department store Santa, and a triple dog-dare to lick a freezing flagpole are just a few of the obstacles that stand between Ralphie and his Christmas dream, according to producer Brenda Neuss.

Some students question whether this year’s musical is appropriate for a public school production due to its affiliation with Christmas, a Christian holiday. Students participating in “A Christmas Story” defend the selection and insist that the musical has no association with Christianity. “Although the show is set around Christmas time, there is never any mention of Jesus or Christianity. It is more about holiday spirit than anything else,” says sophomore Catherine Cargain. 

Senior Collin McKee, who plays adult Ralphie and narrates the story, also argues that the music department has done religious musicals in the past. “My freshman year, we did ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and that was all about Jewish traditions. Compared to that, this show has nothing to do with religion at all,” says McKee.

Another first for the music department this year will be the earlier December release of the musical. Typically, J-DHS musicals premiere in February. However, this year, the music department planned “A Christmas Story-The Musical” two months earlier, in December, so the production could be held near Christmas. 

Challenges in both scheduling and fall sports have made preparation for the release difficult. “The choreography of the entire musical has been tricky for kids who are doing both a fall sport and the musical, because they tend to come late to rehearsal or miss it for a game,” says Mrs. Quackenbush. Despite the troubles with choreography, Mrs. Quackenbush says the group is excelling musically. McKee gives credit to the production staff for working around all the fall sports’ schedules, but because of this, many rehearsals are long Saturday rehearsals or are late at night. Current rehearsals run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. However, closer to the premiere, Saturday rehearsals typically last from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., depending on the part.

In order to combat the difficult scheduling, Mrs. Quackenbush introduced an app called TeamSnap to those participating in the musical. Using the app, students can commit to attending certain rehearsals and can also overview the schedule for future rehearsals. 

However, the earlier premier for the musical hasn’t been all bad, says Mrs. Quackenbush. “When you come back to school, you’re full of energy, you’re refreshed from the summer. When we hold the show during February, those winter months are dreary and hard to get through,” says Mrs. Quackenbush.

Because of the focus on young characters featured in “A Christmas Story” many of the major roles in the production were given to freshmen, rather than seniors. Despite this, seniors who have been in the music department for their entire high school careers show no resentment towards the young freshmen. “I think the freshmen are perfect for the lead roles. It would look a little weird having a senior play the part of a 9 year-old boy,” says McKee  Though the experience of the younger performers is a question, Mrs. Quackenbush believes that the freshman were the best to fit the part. 

Freshmen Gabe Cahill, cast as Ralphie, and Tanner Gunn, cast as Ralphie’s younger brother Randy, were completely unknown to the production staff before the audition process. “We were in complete shock during their auditions. We didn’t even know who they were, coming in as freshmen, but they did such a good job that we called them both back,” says Mrs. Quackenbush. “We didn’t know if they could handle it, but they did so great at call-backs that (the production staff) decided that they were in,” says Mrs. Quackenbush.

McKee says the two freshmen are doing exceptionally well thus far in the production. Despite this, Cahill still feels pressure as the lead of the production. “I’m the first freshman lead in a really long time, so I feel like I need to perform my best to blow away the audience,” says Cahill.

The production staff and participating students are under a lot of pressure to bring “A Christmas Story – The Musical” up to the standards of past J-DHS productions. Technology teacher Larry Stroh is working hard to build the set for the production. With the amount of work being put into the production by the students and producers, McKee says this year’s production will be better than the past two shows J-DHS has done. “It just has a much better message. This musical has a lot of comic relief, but it also has its serious moments. The last two musicals we did have all just been funny,” says McKee. 

“It’s not like anything we’ve ever done before. It’s going to be amazing,” says Mrs. Quackenbush. All will be revealed on opening night Dec. 10 in the Osborne Auditorium.

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