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Naperville 12-year-old takes to the Broadway stage

Johnny Rabe Naperville is playing Ralphie 'A Christmas Story' Broadway. | Phocourtesy~Carol Rosegg

Johnny Rabe of Naperville is playing Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" on Broadway. | Photo courtesy~Carol Rosegg

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:32AM

Don’t worry, Johnny Rabe won’t really shoot his eye out. Ralphie Parker didn’t, and neither will the gifted Naperville 12-year-old.

From now through the end of the year, Johnny is spending part of most days portraying Ralphie in the musical stage adaptation of the iconic seasonal movie “A Christmas Story,” on Broadway.

The story is set in 1940 in Hohman, Ind., where 9-year-old Ralphie is trying desperately to convince his parents to make sure that come Christmas morning, a coveted Official Red Ryder Range Model Carbine Action BB Gun will be under the tree. He continues to long for the toy firearm, despite the repeated opining by adults that “you’ll shoot your eye out.”

After opening Nov. 19, the production continues through Dec. 30 in Manhattan, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on West 46th Street.

A phone conversation with Johnny this week suggests the Great White Way hasn’t gone to his head. He spoke with The Sun Tuesday while he rested between a morning appearance on “The View” and the evening’s show.

“I’ve never been on TV before,” said Johnny, who found the new venue exciting.

He had to be mindful of the many cameras circulating around the stage, he said, but the smaller floor area of the TV studio worked fine for the number he did as part of his live segment.

Johnny’s mom, Lilah Rabe, said her son was a bit dazzled when show cohost Whoopi Goldberg came by as his makeup was being applied. He had his photo taken with her.

“This is all very new to him,” said Lilah, who homeschools her seventh-grader when he’s working out of town and has to be away from his regular class work at Covenant Classical School in Naperville.

Theater critics have had good things to say about the musical, which includes a big fantasy number in the first act titled “Ralphie to the Rescue!” that promptly acquaints the audience with the likable young protagonist. That pleases his mom.

“They’ve gotten good reviews, really good reviews,” she said. “Just about all positive — which, for New York, is really good.”

The Associated Press describes the play as “a musical that dares to mess with one of the most popular Christmas-time movies of all time and yet manages to not only do the film justice, but top it ... The cast is led by a multi-talented Johnny Rabe as Ralphie (and) a cast of skillful children, who can give the kids over at ‘Annie’ a run for their money.”

Playing the lead role on the big stage is a fairly big deal for the Naperville kid, who made his debut in community theater just four years ago.

“He’s on stage almost the entire show. There are only a couple of numbers where he isn’t,” Lilah said. “And the standard, of course, is very high. It is Broadway, so the expectations are very high ... He’s working very hard, but he loves it.”

The rigors of Broadway haven’t worn down Johnny, a veteran of such regionally produced stage productions as “The Music Man,” “Les Miserables,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Oliver.” He also had a part in the ensemble when “A Christmas Story” had a five-city tour a year ago that ended in Chicago.

The Ralphie role, which he won after auditioning with some 500 other aspiring young actors, was a satisfying step up.

“He has such a great imagination,” said Johnny, who is especially fond of joining the rest of the cast for the curtain calls. “It’s my dream role.”

Playing roles indefinitely isn’t part of the dream, though. He expects to take his final curtain call on the professional stage before the time comes to choose a career.

“I’d like to be a professor of military history at a really great college,” Johnny said. “That sounds like a lot of fun, but there are other possibilities.”

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