A touring musical version of A Christmas Story docks at the Orpheum this week, and being Santa-like, it brings a special holiday surprise for longtime fans of local theater. Christopher Swan, a beloved resident company member at Playhouse on the Square from 1991 to 1994, is coming back to town in the role of the leg-lamp-loving "Old Man."
"You know that's 'old man' in quotation marks," Swan quips, allowing that it has been 20 years since he left Memphis, and he's now mature enough to step into the role made famous by Darren McGavin.
Swan was fresh out of college when he arrived in Memphis. "I auditioned for [Playhouse founder] Jackie Nichols at the very end of my college career and was offered an internship," he says. "My first professional job was playing Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the Public Theatre in Boston. That summer, I drove down to be in Oklahoma, my first show at Playhouse on the Square, and I couldn't believe how hot it was." That wasn't the only thing he couldn't believe.
"I grew up a Yankee and didn't know what to expect. It was so great to work with a group with such longevity and such an eye to the future, that doesn't play it safe."
Swan left Memphis for the next phase of his acting career in 1994, following an appearance in the regional premiere of Six Degrees of Separation, where he performed alongside Ann Marie Hall and Jim Ostrander, the actor for whom the annual Memphis theater awards are named.
"That was a nice goodbye," says Swan, who hopes Memphis audiences will consider making a tradition out of the musical version of A Christmas Story. The musical, he says, allows audiences to dive even deeper into the rich imaginations of Ralphie, who only wants a BB gun, and the "Old Man," who has a pretty rich fantasy life of his own.