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BWW Interview: Susannah Jones of A CHRISTMAS STORY at Waterbury's Palace Theatre

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If the word Fragile (pronounced Frah-GEE-lay) or the phrase "You'll shoot your eye out, kid" bring a smile to your face, then you are likely one of the many people who love A CHRISTMAS STORY, the classic 1983 movie that has become required viewing for many families each Christmas season. And, while you may know the story by heart, you have likely never seen it told the way you will if you check out A CHRISTMAS STORY the musical on stage at the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, CT for just two performances on November 18th and 19th. Told with the flair only a musical can bring, A CHRISTMAS STORY puts an unfamiliar twist on the familiar classic. I caught up with Susannah Jones who plays the role of Ralphie's mother, and discussed her experience with the show, life on tour, and even her childhood equivalent to Ralphie's Red Ryder BB Gun.

BWW: Susannah, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. We are really looking forward to A CHRISTMAS STORY in Waterbury!

Susannah Jones: Great! I am really looking forward to being there.

Can you start by telling us a little bit about how you got started in the theatre?

I have wanted to be an actress since I was in the third grade. I did theatre all through school - I am from Westchester, NY - Croton on Hudson. I went to North Carolina School of the Arts for my last year of high school, then went to NYU for college. I haven't stopped acting since then. I have done a lot of Shakespeare and musical theatre. I started doing this show two years ago, and this is my third year on the tour.

A CHRISTMAS STORY is, for many people, a favorite movie. What is it like bringing a story like this to the stage?

It's a really special experience that I feel honored to be a part of. Obviously the movie is so beloved. I grew up on the movie as well, so it was very exciting to be cast in the show. My parents used to call our big gift the "major award" when I was growing up. So it is really wonderful when we get to those points in the show like the bunny suit, or the leg lamp or the tongue stuck on the flagpole. But there is also all this exciting and beautiful music. I think our show ends up having a little bit more heart than the movie. Not that it is not part of the movie, but it is a little bit enhanced by the score which is, in my opinion, very beautiful and exciting. It is really touching in the end.

So it sounds like the things people expect are there, but there are new things as well?

Exactly. One of my favorite numbers is in the second act when there is a speakeasy tap number that is Ralphie's nightmare after he gets a bad grade on his school paper. His teacher, Ms. Shields, turns into a 1920's nightclub singer and all the kids dance around in mobster and gun moll outfits. It's pretty amazing and it also reminds you how talented kids can be!

In the show you play Mother, which seems like a really fun and interesting role to play. What do you like most about playing her?

I really love playing this part. One of the things that I admire most about this woman that I get to play is that she is so smart and loves her family so deeply, but it is very much behind the scenes. She has a quieter experience of things and is like a puppet master in a way - making sure everything works seamlessly without anyone seeing the strings. The role of Mothers in general at that time was a bit thankless, so being able to play this incredibly smart, graceful and loving person is great.

Talking about the children in the cast, what is it like working the kids?

I definitely feel a huge tenderness, especially for the boys who play my sons, but all the kids as well. It's humbling to see how hard working and talented they are. They are all true triple threats. In the rehearsal process I end up taking the boys under my wing to some extent, especially having done the show for three years. So I end up steering them a little bit at the start. But we have cultivated between them, and me, and Chris Swan who plays the Old Man, a real theatre family and we all trust each other. It's a beautiful thing.

What do you look forward to the most before you step out on stage each night?

I have a ballad in the second act called "Just Like That" which I sing to Ralphie to make him feel better after he gets into a fight. It is a beautifully written piece that starts out being about making him feel better and ends up being a subtle but sweet and moving reflection on how quickly time passes as a mother. It is an unexpected moment for mother and in the show. It's not what you expect in that scene. It's masterfully built structurally and musically. I feel very lucky that I get to be the person that gets to go on stage and deliver that.

And you are starting this leg of the tour very soon?

Yes, we are leaving for tech tomorrow. We are going to be in Utica and then will make our way to Waterbury.

How long with this run go?

We close on December 30 in Grand Rapids, MI.

So you will be on the road during the holidays?

Yes. It is really interesting spending Christmas on the road. On one hand it is lovely because you have built a family with the cast, but on the other hand you feel like you have been celebrating Christmas and getting into the spirit for the last two months but you don't really get to be with your family. It is sort of bizarre. But it is remarkable that week leading up to Christmas Eve. The excitement in the air, and the Christmas spirit if you will, is pretty strong and overwhelming.

What would you say are the best and most difficult parts about touring with a show like this?

The best part is seeing places in the country that I would never otherwise go to. Last year we went up and down the Midwest, from Dallas to Appleton, WI. The second year we went to the southwest and a couple west coast cities. This year we are on the east coast and a little into the Midwest like Michigan and Pittsburgh. I always find it interesting and enriching. The hardest part is you end up feeling a little bit claustrophobic. It doesn't feel like real life. You don't get to see your friends and family. But at the end of the day, being a working actor is something to be so grateful for. And the benefits of performing in a show that is well made and means something to people and with people that you love trumps all of those things.

Anyone familiar with the story of A CHRISTMAS STORY knows Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas more than anything. Was there a toy that you wanted when you were a child more than anything?

I think it would have to be an American Girl doll. I really wanted Felicity, the colonial doll, and I got her! It was very exciting. I loved her so much and I brushed all of her hair out, so maybe a little too much. I remember seeing the box under the tree and recognizing the shape and getting so excited!

So thinking toward the future, do you have a dream role that you would one day like to play?

Staying with the theme of mothers, I would love to play Mother in RAGTIME. That is a part that I have been dying to play. So hopefully they will revive that soon or some great regional theatre will do that and I will get to play that role. I am actually also a writer and am starting a theatre company with three of my friends and that's really exciting. So, hopefully that will go far.

Do you have any advice for young performers looking to make it into professional theatre?

My advice would be to follow everything that interests you. The more you follow your passions, whether it is music, or playing an instrument, or dancing, or archery, or yoga, or anything that is exciting to you, there will be roles out there where only you can do it because of your experience. There is such an emphasis on being a triple threat or checking the boxes of what it means to be a good actor, but really it is about following and doing what you love and bringing that to the table. That is what will make your life interesting and richer, rather than just being a theatre machine.

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A CHRISTMAS STORY "A Christmas Story, the Musical, sponsored by ION Bank, " will make a two performance stop at Waterbury's Palace Theater on Friday evening November 18, at 8:00pm and Saturday November 19 at 2:00pm. Tickets can be purchased online at www.palacetheaterct.org, by phone at 203-346-2000 , or in person at the Box Office,100 East Main St. Tickets begin at $45.

Top Photo: Susannah Jones

Middle Photo: Susannah Jones as Mother, Christopher Swan as the Old Man, Cal Alexander as Randy, and Colton Maurer as Ralphie in A Christmas Story, The Musical. Photo by Gary Emord Netzley.

Bottom Photo: Christopher Swan as The Old Man and the Cast of A Christmas Story, The Musical. Photo by Gary Emord Netzley.


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