Local actor returns to national stage as Ralphie from "A Christmas Story"

By Allison Marlow
Managing Editor
allisonm@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 12/7/22

Sometimes, life does imitate art.

Local actor Keegan Gulledge had a real-life "Christmas Story" moment when he met the actor who made that movie's Ralphie famous.

The 15-year-old Baldwin County …

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Local actor returns to national stage as Ralphie from "A Christmas Story"

Posted

Sometimes, life does imitate art.

Local actor Keegan Gulledge had a real-life "Christmas Story" moment when he met the actor who made that movie's Ralphie famous.

The 15-year-old Baldwin County Virtual School student portrays the musical's Ralphie Parker in "A Christmas Story, The Musical," at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Illinois, this holiday season. When Peter Billingsley, the actor who starred as the bespectacled, Red Ryder BB gun-loving kid in the 1983 film walked in the room, Gulledge could barely speak.

"I wasn't really able to interact I was so star struck," Gulledge said.

Much like the fictional character he portrays who couldn't speak in front of Santa, Gulledge too was left speechless, repeating a single phrase over and over.

"My jaw dropped. I was just like, uhhhhhhhhh. I just kept saying 'I love it' over and over to questions that weren't even relevant to that answer," he says, laughing.

For many modern audiences across the country, Gulledge is their Ralphie, now in his second season performing the part. During December 2021, Gulledge toured with “A Christmas Story” to theaters across much of the northeast, performing 30 shows in 29 days.

Now at the Marriott Theatre, Gulledge will reprise the role for audiences there through January.

Gulledge has performed in Baldwin County since elementary school under the direction of Erin Langley at Eastern Shore Repertory Theatre, in Daphne.

The high schooler said his time at ESRT was what pushed him to larger stages.

"Ms. Erin created me as an actor and helped push me through tough times and helped me grow," he said. He points to his first performance in "Newsies" during the annual Theatre on the Bluff with ESRT five years ago when he was what he calls, "out of the zone, stomping bugs between lines and staring out at the audience."

"Ms. Erin has helped me improve over the years and train me to be the best I can be. She believes in me, she supports me. She's an amazing person to work for," he said.

Gulledge was hired for the Chicago show after signing on with Heron Agency. He won the role after a single call back and headed north in October for rehearsals leaving behind the part of Crutchy in "Newsies Jr." with ESRT.

This stage re-telling of the well-known holiday movie is presented in a theater in the round which features the actors in the center of a circle of seats. Gulledge said the physical challenge of an audience on all sides means he must stay in character at all times.

"You can't turn back and make a goofy face or something because someone will always catch it," he said.

After months of being Ralphie in 2021, Gulledge said the role came easy to him because he knows the character, but there was still much to add to his portrayal.

Gulledge said he likes to depict Ralphie with a comedic flair. The 9-year-old actor he shares the role with during the production is a more serious Ralphie. Gulledge said he enjoys watching his counterpart perform and appreciates the differences in their characterizations.

"He’s younger so he really gives off that nine-year-old vibe for the character. I have to try and push for that since I'm 15. It's not that hard because I'm not too over mature for 15 but it comes more naturally to him," he said.

A third run as Ralphie next year is something Gulledge said he would enjoy, but may not be in the cards as his voice matures.

"I don't know how much time I have until my voice hits puberty," he said. "That's a career change. I've been lucky so far that I've been able to keep this young voice."

Even once he leaves the younger roles behind, Gulledge said he is in the theater to stay.

"I love musical theater," he said. "I love performing to an audience. I love making decisions on stage when something goes wrong, and I get to figure out what to do in the moment. I love the theater community and what lies ahead for everyone."

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