LOS ANGELES — Christmas came early for a group of theater kids. They are the young stars of “A Christmas Story, the Musical,” and their mouths were agape when they walked into the Ahmanson and caught their first glimpse of the set that will be their home for the next few weeks. For 9-year-old Henry Witcher, it was a lot to take in.

“This is crazy,” he said, his eyes wide as he scanned the room.

Henry plays Randy, the younger brother who in the 1983 film famously gets so bundled, he can’t put his arms down.

What You Need To Know

  • The film "A Christmas Story" was released 40 years ago and has become a holiday staple

  • "A Christmas Story, the Musical" features songs by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul 

  • Performances run at the Ahmanson through Dec. 31

In real life, Henry is from Burbank, where winters are much milder than in Indiana where the story is set.

“I’ve only experienced snow three times here,” he recalled, then rethought it. “Well, no, two times.”

Sitting next to him, Kai Edgar’s jaw dropped open. The 12-year-old, who plays Ralphie, hails from Chicago, so he knows snow and immediately began regaling Henry with stories of the sled he uses to fly down the slope in his backyard — that is, when he is home. 

Kai works on stages all over the country. This time last year he was performing at the Metropolitan Opera in The Hours with stars such as Renee Fleming and Kelli O’Hara. A few months later, he was at the Music Center appearing in LA Opera’s tragic “Pelléas et Mélisande.” Now in the Ahmanson at the other end of the Music Center, he’s excited to be in “A Christmas Story, the Musical,” which is far jollier. In fact, as he toured the space, he would occasionally just break into song or a little tap dance.

In addition to seeing the set, the kids in the cast got a full back stage tour where they passed props, compared costumes and — like siblings — found ways to razz each other over their dressing room amenities.

From L to R: Eric Petersen, Kai Edgar, Henry Witcher, and Sabrina Sloan in "A Christmas Story, The Musical" at Center Theatre Group's Ahmanson Theatre. (Photo by Craig Schwartz Photography)

As squeals and shouts rang down the hall, in his own dressing room around the corner, Henry seemed to be savoring the moment. Performing at the Ahmanson is a dream come true — something he’s wanted as much as Ralphie wants that Red Ryder BB gun. His mother has photos of him from outings to see various shows through the years, posing out on the plaza, holding programs.

“I have seen so many shows here,” he said. “Like, I can’t even count them all. I’m so happy I could cry right now.”

He’s not the only one. Sabrina Sloan has performed from coast to coast — including on Broadway — and said the Ahmanson has long been on her bucket list. She and her kids watch the movie “A Christmas Story” every year and she is thrilled to be stepping into the role of Mother.

“There are moments when Mom is teaching the kids a lesson, but also reflecting and learning herself,” she explained. "And I find that to be true of real life parenting as well.”

She also admitted she prefers the musical.

“Honestly, I may get into trouble for that,” she whispered. She describes it as full of heart and hilarity, not to mention music by Pasek and Paul, the duo behind “Dear Evan Hansen,” “The Greatest Showman” and “La La Land.”

Chris Carsten knows the music inside and out. He’s been with the show since 2014, performing as Jean Shepherd every year except during COVID, he said. 

“We’ve just been all over, crisscrossed the United States over the years,” he said, looking up at the same house that gets rebuilt for each production. “It’s been a fantastic ride. And I’m so thrilled to be able to continue taking the ride.”

The holidays mean different things to different families, he said, but there’s a magic about “A Christmas Story” that everyone can relate to.

“The story is tried and true,” he said. “And this show and the incredible story, this wonderful, quirky story that it tells is just such a great compliment to the holidays.”

Neither Kai nor Henry are looking for Santa to bring them a BB gun this year. What they want is to make audiences smile this season, but their biggest Christmas wishes lie outside the theater walls.

“My Christmas wish is to have anybody that feels alone to get a community and…feel like they have someone supporting them,” Kai said.

“My Christmas wish is for every child who has a serious war going on to find peace somewhere in the world,” Henry added.