When it was decided Pasadena Theatre Company would enact "A Christmas Story" for its annual holiday production, director Chuck Dick had one person in mind to play the lead role of "Ralphie Parker" -13-year-old Jonathan "Jonny" Reichert.
Jonny, a Pasadena resident, looks the part with his round face, bright eyes, and straight sandy-blonde hair.
During a recent rehearsal at Stage & Screen Studios in Millersville, Jonny donned the thick-rimmed glasses and 1940's attire "Ralphie" wears in the movie. As they rehearsed each scene, Jonny recited his lines with ease.
An eighth-grader at Chesapeake Bay Middle School, Jonny has been pursuing acting for several years. He was in first grade when he was introduced to the stage when his older sister invited him to play a small part in Chesapeake High School's production of "Miracle on 34th Street."
Jonny said he was surrounded by older kids and felt "so cool" acting on the high school stage.
"I really enjoyed (acting in the play)" he said.
After his first stage experience, Jonny was hooked. He enrolled in various theaters including Dick's Catonsville Theater Company, which features productions for youth.
He's played lead roles before, including "Mike Teavee" in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," but this part is one he can "really relate to."
"If I was around in that era I would be just like (Ralphie)," Jonny said.
To prepare for the role, he has been watching and re-watching the iconic movie, carefully noting "Ralphie's" facial expressions and mannerisms displayed by actor Peter Billingsley. He says after watching the movie he began incorporating "Ralphie's" "cheesy smile and the glimmer in his eye."
Jonny began theater training with Dick when he was in second grade. Following the April production of "Shrek" by Catonsville Theatre Company, Dick invited Jonny to audition for the part of "Ralphie."
"He was right for it, I knew he'd be hard to beat," Dick said.
With Jonny's mixture of experience and stage presence, Dick knew he had found his lead.
Thirteen-year-old Mia Novak, of Pasadena, is another student of Dick's performing in "A Christmas Story." She's been acting in plays for seven years and enjoys being on stage.
As Santa's menacing elf, Mia plays a relatively small role, but she believes small roles are vital to the overall story.
Mia is a student at Brooklyn Park Middle School in the Performing Visual Arts Program and is active in five theaters including Pasadena Theatre Company. She rehearses for various performances every night of the week.
A newcomer to the stage, 12-year-old Olivia Shulman of Pasadena, plays the part of "Schwartz," "Ralphie's" best friend. Olivia has always wanted to try acting but says her softball schedule prevented it.
After auditioning for Dick, she was surprised when she landed an important role. At first, Olivia had reservations about being cast as a boy, but now says she's happy she landed the part.
Olivia suggested her friend and George Fox Middle School classmate, Anthony Kulski, 13, try out for a part in the production. Although he landed smaller roles as "Desperado 1" and a school student, he likes being on stage.
"I enjoy being someone different," he said.
Olivia's 9-year-old brother, Miles Shulman, has also been cast in the play as "Desperado 2" and a student.
Clad in cowboy attire, Miles plays a sidekick to "Black Bart" during "Ralphie's" daydream about defending his family using his Red Ryder BB Gun.
Sharon Steele, producer of "A Christmas Story," says Pasadena Theatre Company typically features adult actors with children in supporting roles, however this season children fill most of the roles.
"It's important to involve the kids," she said.
Dick said he decided to direct "A Christmas Story" because "this is such a great show, it's iconic." He's hoping to capture the family dynamics and "heartwarming" Christmas nostalgia that people love.
"All of us can relate to this (movie) in some way or another," he said.
Performances will be held at Stage & Screen Studios, 215 Najoles Road, Studio A, Nov. 30-Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. A matinee show will be held at 3 and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 8.
Tickets are $20 per adult or $15 per child ages 12 and under.
After years of sharing the stage at Anne Arundel Community College, the group is rehearsing and performing at Stage & Screen Studios. "A Christmas Story" will be the group's first production at the new facility which opened last year.
Pasadena Theater Company, a nonprofit, was established by four Pasadena residents in 1978.
Steele became involved in the group in 1979 when her daughter joined the organization.
Dick, a seasoned actor and director, joined the group in 1986 when he tried out for the role of "Dracula." While volunteering with the company, he continued working in the entertainment industry.
"It's been a real love affair with doing the theater here," he said.
For more information, visit ptcshows.com or call 410-440-8488.
A lottery-themed fundraiser will be held at 6 p.m. Nov. 26 at Our Lady of the Chesapeake, 8325 Ventnor Road.
Tickets are $100 each. Appetizers are included. The grand prize is $5,000; everyone is guaranteed to win a cash prize or lottery ticket.
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