Local actor channels the bully in ‘A Christmas Story’

December 7, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Scut Farkus (Ashton Herrild, center) and Grover Dill (Keenan Barr, right) confront Ralphie (Clarke Hallum, left) and Randy (Matthew Lewis, lying center) in ‘A Christmas Story, The Musical!’ By Chris Bennion

All 9-year-old Ralphie Parker wants for Christmas is “an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.”

While he impatiently waits for Santa Claus to bring him the BB gun for the holidays, the star of the new 5th Avenue Theatre musical production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical!” has to deal with a foil his own age: bully Scut Farkus, played by Newcastle 13-year-old Ashton Herrild.

In addition to bullying Parker at school, Farkus bullies him in his daydream fantasies that pop up in The 5th Avenue Theatre’s musical, playing a shark, a pirate and even a creature that looks like the evil monkey from “The Wizard of Oz.”

“I’m pretty much the main antagonist,” Ashton said.

The hit 1983 movie, based on real and fictional stories by Jean Shepherd, follows the Parker family through a Christmas season in the 1940s. But Ashton advised patrons to see the musical first and the movie later, so “they won’t say, ‘That’s not the same as the movie,’” when they watch the show, he said.

Ashton has acted since age 4, when he took acting classes at Mercer Island’s Youth Theatre Northwest.

His mother, Beth Herrild, remembered how her son used to wake her and her husband David up in the morning, dressed to the nines in a costume of his own making.

“I was always that kid who was loud in class and wasn’t really embarrassed,” about it, Ashton said.

Theater proved to be a good outlet for his endless energy, and soon his family started driving him to classes and auditions at Seattle Children’s Theatre, Youth Theatre Northwest, Missoula Children’s Theatre and Maywood Middle School.

This summer, he played the main character in Seattle Children’s Theatre’s “There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom,” and spent hours transforming himself into an alienated boy who bullies others, but also performs poorly in school and feels insecure.

“At the end, a lot of people cried,” Ashton said.

Whenever he gets a new role, he tries to model himself after people who fit the stereotype — he watched “The Three Stooges” when he played a less-than-smart shepherd in “Medieval Farces” and watched several episodes of “Family Matters” so he could familiarize himself with nerdy Steve Urkel for “Bye Bye Birdie.”

He auditioned for “A Christmas Story, The Musical!” because he “wanted a bigger experience.”

Auditioning took a wallop of perseverance on his part. He had at least six callbacks. He opted to sing, “I’ll be There,” by The Jackson 5, hitting the high notes because he knew Farkus supposedly had yet to hit puberty.

His high notes and acting prowess paid off.

“I get to say I got to perform for a sold-out show for a week for a new musical,” he said.

The rehearsal schedule was so intense, Ashton withdrew from Maywood Middle School and started home school with a personal tutor. At rehearsal, he learned how to choreograph fight scenes with Clarke Hallum, the 11-year-old actor playing Parker.

“The children in this show are just jaw-droppingly great,” 5th Avenue spokesman John Longenbaugh said.

The show’s child wrangler, Lauren Ruhl, called Ashton “a great performer. He’s really funny.”

Though only 13, Ashton plans to go into acting after he graduates from high school, but he isn’t sure whether he wants to act on stage or on camera.

Whatever he does, he’ll have the support of his parents, older brother Jesse Herrild and younger sister Zoe Herrild.

“He has always been our drama boy,” Beth Herrild said. “He has always been a kid who notices everything and picks up on little, subtle details. Maybe he’ll be a director.”

If you go

‘A Christmas Story, The Musical!’

  • Dec. 9-30
  • The 5th Avenue Theatre
  • 1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle
  • Tickets: $23 to $103
  • Call 206-625-1900 or go to www.5thavenue.org

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or lgeggel@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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