‘Ralphie to the Rescue’ casts big season glow
Did he have an aunt who gave him weird pajamas?
Had he tussled with a bully?
Was there a Christmas present like the one Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” really, really wanted?
“Yes, to all of the above!” yelled out James Bernard, the 12-year-old who plays Ralphie in “A Christmas Story: The Musical,” the Gateway production playing at Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts Dec. 15-27.
James is the lead who’s worked professionally since he was 9. He recently completed a national tour as Kurt Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” and appeared as Dill in “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Queens Theatre.
An Upper West Side resident, James elaborated on his experiences.
“My aunt got me dinosaur pajamas, also piggy ones,” he said of past presents.
Of the bully he met up with, he had this to say.
“When I went to chess camp during a school break, one of the guys was 6 feet tall and tried to strangle me,” he said. “I kicked him in the face and he backed off. I don’t think I ever saw him again.”
Well, chess can be competitive.
As for the Christmas present, “I really wanted an electronic drum set and I got it last Christmas,” he offered.
James will be the first to tell you he’s enamored of performing. “Show business is my life,” he said.
The actor/singer cracked up Gateway staff during a recent interview, as his tutor Megan Minutillo sat in.
Rehearsals are a true commitment for any actor. James, who’s carrying a heavy load with this role (“Ralphie to the Rescue” is a little over 6 minutes and that’s just one number he carries with dancing), was asked how he juggles performing with school. “What I always do is memorize my lines before rehearsal,” he said. “Then when rehearsals start, it’s easier.” Scot Patrick Allan, Gateway’s vice president of development and public relations, pointed out that James gets tutored in the morning.
“I like school,” James said. “My favorite [subject] is math.”
A supportive family cheering section will be at Patchogue Theatre on opening night, Dec. 15. “My mom, dad and brother, he’s my fraternal twin,” James said of his sibling Daniel. “He’s 2 inches taller and is older than me by 10 minutes.”
Oh well, who’s counting?
His aunt from Manhattan and grandparents from Florida will be there.
James’s charm, besides his talent, is an easy, sweet confidence without being overbearing. Graced with a supportive family, his mom signed him up for singing lessons at age 3, when he kept vocalizing tunes, he said. His dad, David Bernard, is the founding music director of the famed Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, a pianist, harpsichord/continuo player who often leads baroque works from the keyboard and performs as soloist and conductor. His mom, Joanna Bars, is currently staying locally in Bellport with James so he can get his necessary tutoring along with rehearsal and performance time.
Gateway casting director Michael Baker said they sorted through about 300 youngsters who applied for the open call via their agents.
“We give the agents a breakdown of what is needed,” Baker explained. That was narrowed down to 80, where the Ralphie hopefuls acted and sang at the Ripley-Grier Studios at 520 8th Avenue.
Then another return for specific audition material with the choreographer, director and Baker. “James came to three callbacks,” he said. The final one included Gateway producer Paul Allan.
The tryouts can be quick — 3 minutes first time around. “The final callback is around 10 minutes,” Baker explained. James belted out “Red Rider Carbon Action BB Gun” with conviction.
“The character Ralphie is an honest, in-the-moment kind of kid,” he said. “It was nice to see James’s honest take on Ralphie. He’s not wrapped up in adult sophistication. When James did the material, there was a freshness. He had that youthful Ralphie spark.”
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