Theatre Lawrence delivers holiday nostalgia, humor with ‘A Christmas Story: The Musical’

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Actors in "A Christmas Story: The Musical" — from left, Brian Williams, Nolan Shannon, Sadie Shannon and Jetty Johnson — rehearse Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.

The charm of “A Christmas Story,” most seem to agree, is in its nostalgia — for America just before World War II and for childhood generally, when a longed-for gift like a Red Ryder Carbine Action BB gun can hold the promise of an exciting new life.

“The movie came out in 1983 when I was the age of the main character, Ralphie,” says Chris McCoy, who’s directing Theatre Lawrence’s production of the holiday classic, “and so I think for that reason this has always been my favorite Christmas movie. It’s the one I watch every year, and I know a lot of people feel the same way.”

On top of the nostalgia, Theatre Lawrence’s production offers an additional charm: music.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Actors in “A Christmas Story: The Musical” — from left, Sadie Shannon, Nolan Shannon, Brian Williams and Jetty Johnson — rehearse Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.

Unlike the 40-year-old film, the stage show comes with a Broadway-style soundtrack that adds a little pizzazz to the most beloved scenes, including Dad discovering that his “major award” is a risqué lamp, and the kids discovering that tongues really do stick to frozen metal.

And yet another charm: The actors who play Ralphie and his mom in Theatre Lawrence’s production are mother and son in real life.

The two theater-lovers, Nolan, 11, and Sadie Shannon, moved from the South to the Lawrence area last year and were looking to get back on stage.

“We’ve both done theater independently for so long and, we’ve never been able to be on stage together,” Sadie said. “So I said we would take any role … just so that we could do something together. And then we ended up getting cast as mother and son.”

Nolan is excited to act with his mom, who had taught college-level drama for 15 years before moving to Kansas.

“That was the dream,” he says. “It has been an amazing experience.”

Nolan had seen the famous film a few years ago, then watched it again as a refresher before the auditions. Since winning the role, he has continued doing his homework.

“He’s watched it a few times since being in the show,” says Sadie, in an effort “to pick up some of the classic pop culture things so that he could make sure he was delivering them correctly.”

For her role, Sadie plays the frazzled mom to Ralphie and his little brother, and the patient, if mortified, wife to their father. Her resistance to Ralphie’s dream of owning the BB gun — “You’ll shoot your eye out” — is the driving force in the show as Ralphie schemes to get his way and to overcome other obstacles like schoolyard bullies.

“One thing that I really love is that the mom has two beautiful songs where you really get to see her perspective,” McCoy says, “and how hard she works to try to keep everything together. … The songs are both funny, but also very sentimental and just beautiful.”

Sadie, a mom of two young sons herself, says she identifies with the character “very well.”

“There are parts where she is realizing that life is short and the kids are only so little so long,” Sadie says. “I’m in that same stage in my life, where my kids are in that place where this may be the last time they ask me to tuck them in at night, so every time they do that, I try to remember and remind myself to cherish it because I know that it’s coming to an end soon.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Sadie Shannon and Nolan Shannon rehearse “A Christmas Story: The Musical” on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.

For Nolan, one of the iconic scenes that really resonates is when Ralphie lets loose with a curse word — the worst one — and gets in big trouble. The word is not as forbidden these days as in the 1940s, but it apparently still holds some allure.

“I’ve been asking personally for a curse word for awhile now,” Nolan told the Journal-World, “for like my birthday or Christmas that I can say one curse word.”

Has he ever gotten that gift? “No!” he says, but like Ralphie, he intends to keep pressing for it.


photo by: Shawn Valverde

Dan Heinz as radio host Jean Shepherd rehearses “A Christmas Story: The Musical” on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.

One of the difficulties of adapting a film to stage is changing locales — easy with film edits, tricky with live theater.

“That is one of the biggest challenges we’ve had to face in this,” says McCoy, but the theater’s revolving stage has helped. The set, designed by James Diemer, features a two-story house that can rotate on the turntable, creating a bit of what McCoy calls “theatrical magic.”

“We start by seeing the outside of the house, and then when it revolves, you get to see the (interior), the 1940s radio and the furniture, and it really establishes the entire time period and the essence of the show,” says McCoy, who also gives a big nod to costume designer Jane Pennington.

“She came up with a lot of period pieces from the 1940s for this,” he says. “They don’t look like costumes. They look like authentic clothing.”

“A Christmas Story” opens Friday at 4660 Bauer Farm Drive and will have multiple performances through Dec. 17. For information about tickets, call 785-843-SHOW (7469) or go online at

“I think audiences are going to have a lot of fun,” McCoy says. “I certainly find myself laughing like an 8-year-old all over again each night when I watch some of these scenes re-created live on stage. I hope the audiences have that same experience, whether you know the movie or not.”

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Actors rehearse “A Christmas Story: The Musical” on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.

photo by: Shawn Valverde

Actors in “A Christmas Story: The Musical” rehearse Monday, Nov. 27, 2023, at Theatre Lawrence.


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