Christopher Swan, center, plays the Old Man of leg lamp fame in the musical “A Christmas Story.” (Courtesy Carol Rosegg)

‘Christmas Story’ musical brings movie’s charms to ‘next level’

Christopher Swan has inviting words for theater patrons attending the musical “A Christmas Story,” particularly for the many who love the charming 1983 film on which it’s based: “It’s going to make your holiday season,” he says.

Swan plays the Old Man, the crusty dad in the tour of “A Christmas Story,” a show set in 1940s Indiana about the adventures of young Ralphie, who dreams of getting a Red Ryder BB gun. Based on a story by Jean Shepherd, the musical (by Benji Pasek, Justin Paul and Joseph Robinette) opens a five-day run at the Orpheum Theatre this week.

All of the things that made the movie so popular have been retained, says Swan, from the unruly dogs, to the pole-licking incident, and the kid bundled up so tight in a snowsuit he can barely move,

Swan has a big production number with the iconic leg lamp, a “wonderful fantasy,” he says.

The actor, who has performed for about 25 years since graduating from Boston Conservatory, says the stage version of “A Christmas Story” takes the movie “to the next level.”

Recently, Swan’s gigs have been on the road: “I’ve been touring for the better part of 10 years,” he says, and his current stint has dovetailed nicely with another great part: Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls.”

He even can compare the characters: Both are good guys, trying to make their way, trying to get ahead a little, trying to do the right thing, but feel like that can’t quite get a break, he says.

Through the years, Swan has appeared in a variety of roles, both musicals and dramas, from Billy in “Carousel” to Iago in “Othello.” In 2009 and 2010, he appeared in an eclectic take on another popular Christmas story. In the one-man version of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he played more than 30 characters.

It wasn’t a monologue, he says. He was “literally flipping back and both” in the various parts. (On some levels, he says, it was not unlike being a restaurant reservation taker – another job he has done.)

Sometimes, he says, “I try to run the lines, so I don’t forget them,” in case the opportunity to do the show again arises.

Swan hasn’t cracked Broadway, which he calls a “bit of a lottery” (“I was not patient to sit there, waiting for a break”), but hasn’t entirely ruled out the possibility. Still, he prefers being active with “a lot of work out of town.”

Pressed to name a role or show he’d like to do, he mentions “Man of La Mancha” and “Chicago.”

Mostly, though, he’s happy to be working, getting new and diverse parts, wherever they might take him. One place he hasn’t yet been: San Francisco.

IF YOU GO
A Christmas Story
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 and Dec. 11, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and Dec. 12, 1 and 6 p.m. Dec. 13
Tickets: $40 to $160
Contact: (888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com

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