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A Christmas Story

By Heidi Sutton

Many families have holiday traditions, whether it’s baking cookies, making their favorite side dishes, decorating the tree on a certain day, going to see the same show every year or wearing ugly sweaters. Among those traditions is the 24-hour marathon of A Christmas Story (1983) on TBS that began in 1997 and now also runs on TNT on Dec. 24 and 25. And if you know the name of the Lone Ranger’s nephew’s horse, then you are a true fan.

Based on semi-autobiographical stories by Jean Shepherd, who also narrates throughout, the funny holiday film follows the Parker family — 9-year-old Ralphie, his younger brother Randy, his father (the Old Man) and his mother — living in a house on Cleveland Street in fictional Hohman, Indiana and their days leading up to the Christmas of 1940.

When asked by his mother what he would like for Christmas Ralphie doesn’t say Tinker toys, a football and or a Radio Flyer. He wants a bb gun — a Red Ryder carbine-action 200 Shot Range Model air rifle with a stock and a thing that tells time, to be exact. When his mother tells him no, that he’ll “shoot his eye out,” he goes on a quest  to try to convince her otherwise. The film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” in 2012.

Now the classic holiday story returns to the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport through Dec. 31 and is the perfect holiday gift for the entire family.

Directed and choreographed by Mara Newberry Greer with a live orchestra conducted by Daniel Mollett, the show follows the film closely with many of the scenes we have come to love. In the role of Jean Shepherd, narrator Michael Fasciano, stepping in for Mark Aldrich last Saturday night, sits on the right side of the theater and presents the story in a series of vignettes as he remembers “Another time, another place … and a gun.”

As with everything the Engeman does, the show is bold and fresh and pushes the limits of live theater to take the audience down a joyous trip down memory lane. The Old Man’s major award, the Bumpus hounds, Ralphie’s scuffle with Scut Farkus (what a name!) while fellow toadie Grover Dill looks helplessly on; the frosty flagpole scene with Flick and Schwartz, Randy’s snowsuit, the furnace, the trip to Higbee’s Department Store with Santa and the infamous slide, the flat tire, the pink bunny costume, when Ralphie almost shoots his eye out, Christmas morning around the tree and Christmas dinner at the Chinese restaurant — all the scenes we have come to love are there in all their glory.

The entire cast is phenomenal. 

As the Old Man, Ryan M. Hunt brings the house down with “A Major Award” where he dances with multiple leg lamps. Rachel Gubow, stepping in for Jennifer Evans last Saturday night, was wonderful in the role of the mother, keeping calm in the household.  Her rendition of “What a Mother Does” was heartfelt. Jackson Parker Gill is perfectly cast as Randy and even sounds like him, especially during the snowsuit scene.

Drawing the most laughs is Lanene Charters as Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields. Obsessed with margins, Charters is hilarious in the big Speak Easy number “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out” as she mercilessly mocks Ralphie in this terrific tap dance number.

However it is the amazingly talented Kaian Lilien in the role of Ralphie who commands the stage. His incredible performance in the opening number, “It All Comes Down to Christmas” is only topped by his rendition of “Ralphie to the Rescue!,” in one of the best scenes in the show. 

The period costumes by Dustin Cross perfectly set the scene and the set, designed by Kyle Dixon, is impressive as well. Two rooms featuring an authentic 1940s kitchen and living room (the heart of the home) slide front and back on the stage to accommodate other scenes including Ralphie’s classroom and the alleyway, among others. The boys’ bunk bed slides out from the side. Beautifully executed! 

Make this show part of your family’s holiday tradition. I triple dog dare you. 

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport presents A Christmas Story through Dec. 31. Main stage theater continues with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels from Jan. 19 to March 5, 2023 and The Scarlet Pimpernel from March 16 to April 30, 2023. Tickets range from $80 to $85 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

The leg lamp is lit at Northport Hardware Co. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

Northport residents gathered to see the town’s “award” light up for a 10th straight year.

Northport Hardware Co. has held a leg lamp-lighting ceremony for the past decade, playing off the famous lamp from the holiday classic “A Christmas Story.”

“I think it’s so popular because it’s a hometown event,” said Northport Village Mayor George Doll, who is the master of ceremonies for the lighting. “All the locals thought it was a great idea and it’s just grown and grown every year.” This year, there were more than 100 people gathered outside the hardware store.

Northport residents dance to Christmas music before the leg lamp-lighting at Northport Hardware Co. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Northport residents dance to Christmas music before the leg lamp-lighting at Northport Hardware Co. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The Reichert family has owned the shop for more than 30 years, and when the leg lamps first began being sold, the Reicherts decided to have an impromptu lighting.

“We pulled a couple of guys from Gunther’s [Tap Room] and had the mayor light it,” Jim Reichert, one of the owners of the hardware store, said of the original lighting. Every year after, it became more elaborate, according to Reichert. A projector outside the store plays the movie, a snow machine adds to the ambiance, and the Northport High School kickline team performs for the crowd.

Reichert said that the event is a village collaboration, with residents volunteering to do the lighting, the sound and more.

“It’s a great family night,” he said. “I never expected it to grow this much.”

Doll said when the event started, there was no intention of making the lighting an annual ceremony, but “the event just took a life of its own, and every year people ask if we’re going to do it again.”

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Photo by Heidi Sutton

By Rita J. Egan

The year 2015 marked Smithtown’s 350th anniversary and the return of movies to the town. In addition to commemorative events, locals were able to stop by the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts and take in a feature film to enhance their trip down memory lane.

The movie theater that once operated in the building where SCPA stands today opened in 1933 and offered motion pictures until November of 2001. Toward the end of November 2014, the building, which has not been significantly altered aesthetically in over 80 years, once again became home to beloved movies to commemorate the town’s milestone. While the original lineup of films planned for the theater will wrap up on Oct. 30 with “The Sixth Sense” and “The Exorcist,” management has planned to offer more movies in the upcoming months. Tickets for this double feature are $10.00.

Nov. 27 — ‘The Wizard Of Oz’
Dec. 4 — ‘A Christmas Story’
Jan. 8 — ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ (1956)
Jan. 9 — ‘Rocky’
Jan. 15 — ‘The Addams Family’
Jan. 16 — ‘The Good, The Bad and the Ugly’
Jan. 22 — ‘Carrie’ (1976)
Jan. 23 — ‘The Silence of the Lambs’
Feb. 5 — ‘Network’
Feb. 6 — ‘Dirty Harry’
June 16 — ‘Hook’
June 24 — ‘Thelma & Louise’
*All movies start at 7 p.m. and are $8 per ticket.

Ian Washington, house manager, hosted numerous movie nights at the theater this year. Washington said while attendance varied, overall the movie nights were well received by local residents. During the year he heard comments such as “we’re so happy you’re doing this again” and “please keep doing it.”

Washington said in addition to theatergoers being pleased to see the films, they also requested that the performing arts center show others. “It was a great experience and a great test run of what we know we can do,” he said.

The house manager said among the over 60 films that the theater offered in 2015, he was excited to see movies such as “Rain Man,” the original “Batman,” “Spaceballs” and “Blazing Saddles.” He said the more popular movies with audiences were “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong” and the most attended of all of them, “A Christmas Story.” Washington said “Jaws” and the “Back to the Future” trilogy also did well.

Like last season, the motion pictures will alternate with the performing arts center’s live stage presentations. After the double feature of thrillers on Oct. 30, the theater has a dozen movies scheduled until the end of June with the possibility of more being added for the last few months of 2016.    

“People love that we’re doing it again,” said Washington.

The new lineup of movies will kick off with “The Wizard of Oz” on Friday, Nov. 27, at 7 p.m., and once again, back by popular demand, there will be a holiday showing of “A Christmas Story” on Friday, Dec. 4.

Last year management chose many of the movies based on local residents’ memories of their visits to the theater throughout the decades. This time around, films were selected based on whether they are hitting a milestone anniversary in 2016. Due to this selection process, theatergoers can once again enjoy classics such as “Rocky,” “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” “Carrie,” “Dirty Harry” and “Thelma & Louise” on the big screen in the upcoming year.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2 E. Main Street in Smithtown. For more information, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.