“A Christmas Story” is a perennial holiday favorite in many, if not most, American homes. However, Ryder Parsons, a sixth-grader at Hamilton’s Brookwood Elementary, never saw the movie in its entirety until he landed the part of Ralphie in LaComedia Dinner Theatre’s current run of “A Christmas Story: The Musical.”
“I slept through a lot of it,” he admitted. “I thought it was boring. I was a little younger then. I was all about ‘The Polar Express.’”
This had actually come as a surprise to Ryder’s mother, Sarah Marsh Silva, as they watch the marathon as a family every year. “I thought (everyone in my family) had seen it.”
According to Silva, Ryder has always been a natural performer.
“He has been entertaining since he could talk,” she said. “Everywhere there’s a stage, he hops on it. We were in Hueston Woods Nature Center once with family and friends, and he got on the wooden platform where they do their talks and sang and danced for 15 minutes.”
Before his current gig, Ryder had acted in “Elf, Jr.” “Suessical” and “Hamilton.” He was poised to do “Oliver!” before the pandemic hit. After a year of being offstage, he performed in “The Music Man” over the summer.
“He was going to try out for the ‘Addams Family’ but it was canceled because kids under 12 couldn’t get vaccinated,” Silva said. “Diane Noonan of (Hamilton’s) Encore (Theater) suggested he try out for ‘A Christmas Story.’ We knew he was talented. We knew he’d probably make the show. We didn’t know he’d get Ralphie.”
While recommending ‘A Christmas Story’ to Silva and Ryder, Noonan was also recommending Ryder to Chris Beiser, artistic director at the LaComedia. Beiser said he was initially startled by Ryder’s level of talent and professionalism.
“Some kids can be a little, what we call, ‘extra grace required,’” he laughed. “For some kids, it’s a free-for-all, but Ryder was very focused. He resembles the boy from the movie but doesn’t look exactly like him, which is what we wanted. He also has a lot of energy; he really captures the excitement of a 12-year-old boy who wants that Red Ryder BB gun more than anything in the world. He also learned everything he needed to know in 12 rehearsals at three hours each. The adult actors are there for nine hours each.”
The show opened on Nov. 4. Silva has attended a couple of the shows.
“I can’t afford to go (to all of them),” she said.
Indeed, even while splitting the role with another actor, Ryder performs 4-5 times per week.
“The school has been very supportive,” Silva said. “I think the remote learning helped. He can do a lot of it online. We give the teachers his schedule and they make sure the work is posted. I just have to sit him down and make him do it.”
Ryder said he’s a lot more relaxed in front of an audience of adult strangers than he is in front of family, friends, and classmates.
“If there’s people out there I know, I’m like, what if I mess up,” he said. “If (strangers) think I’m no good, it’s not like they’re going to come up and tell me.”
Ryder said he’s enjoying acting for now, and vaguely thinking about taking it up as a profession in the future.
“We close on Dec. 30,” Beiser said. “And half of those shows are already sold out. We’re planning on doing ‘The Music Man’ ourselves this summer. We hope Ryder comes back to play Winthrop again.”
“He’s definitely talked about acting in the future,” Silva said. “He’s talked about attending a performing arts academy, though I told him he’s still going to have to math and science. He’s played baseball and soccer and there have been times he didn’t want to go to practice because it was too hot or something. I’ve never heard him complain about going to a rehearsal, no matter how busy it keeps him.”