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Speaking With ... Peter Billingsley 12.09.11

Peter Billingsely | Tom Cruze ~ Sun-Times

Peter Billingsely | Tom Cruze ~ Sun-Times

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† Dec. 14-30

† Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State

† Tickets, $35-$79

† (800) 745-3000;

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Updated: December 19, 2011 7:36AM

‘I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot range model air rifle!”

To film fans, that line instantly conjures up the 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” which starred Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, a little boy growing up in 1940s Indiana who longs for the BB-gun, much to the chagrin of his Mom, and much of the adult world he envisions in his hilarious daydreams.

And while TBS will again be featuring its annual “A Christmas Story” marathon Dec. 24, the stage musical version of the movie will be playing at the Chicago Theatre beginning Dec. 14.

Billingsley, now a successful film producer/writer/director, talked to the Sun-Times about the iconic film and the stage musical it spawned.

Q. Did you keep any of the props or costumes from the film?

PB: I was a kid so I didn’t really think about keeping any of the stuff. But my Mom did keep some things for me with the thought that it would be fun to have when I was an adult. So thanks to her I have the bunny suit, the gun, a slate board and the cowboy outfit. They’re all on display in a special Christmas window at Macy’s.

Q. Was there a toy in real life that you longed for as much as Ralphie longed for the Red Rider Rifle in the movie?

PB: I was 12 when we did the film and I remember being absolutely obsessed with metal detectors. I was convinced I was gonna find buried treasure and retire. I finally got one and I spent countless hours in the backyard with it searching for treasure, and well, [laughing] I’m still working.

Q. The film really didn’t do all that well at the box office.

PB: That’s so true. It did OK, and then it just went away. It was a period piece about a kid trying to get a BB-gun for Christmas. I mean it’s not exactly jumping off the page in terms of a movie pitch. It was cable TV that gave the movie a whole new life and made it this iconic Christmas film.

Q. Do you still loathe that bunny costume after all these years?

PB: I did not want to be in that bunny costume, so that was an easy acting job. I mean you’re a guy and the last thing you want is to stand there in a pink bunny suit for all your friends to see. I never wore it again.

Q. Did you ever experience the “bar of soap” punishment in real life?

PB: [Laughing] I got the bar of soap many times because I was a pretty lippy kid. My parents had no tolerance for that. But I had a normal upbringing with two brothers and two sisters. I had to do chores. In hindsight, I’m glad.

Q. What attracted you to the film’s stage version, and a musical to boot?

PB:The show had performed in Kansas City and I heard about it. I felt the film would lend itself to the stage musical format. The producers and I got together and listened to some of the music and came up with the direction we wanted to take the show. We re-tooled much of it. It evolved. It’s been so much fun. To take a story that people have such a personal connection to and do an extension of that. It’s not a remake. You follow the same storyline on stage, just more so. Take the song “Major Award.” The Old Man goes into the street bragging about his lamp and from there it evolved into a lamp kickline.

I liked the idea of a musical because to bring the story to the stage as a drama would simply be repeating the movie on stage and I don’t know how dynamic that would have been.

The fans of the movie will get what they expect: Santa’s slide, the tongue on the pole, the turkey in the Chinese restaurant, all the iconic scenes are there, but now there enhanced by music.

Q. What’s your absolute favorite scene in the film?

PB: My favorite line is, “Frah-gee-lay. It must be Italian.” I just sums up the Old Man so much. He’s just a guy trying to make it in the world and that moment, that award symbolizes so much of his self-worth.

Q. Not many people may know it but you’re the producer behind the “Iron Man” movies. Were you a big comic book fan as a kid?

PB: I liked them. But I’ve done Jon Favreau films before because we’re good friends, so it’s always fun to work with him.

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