Age & Hometown: 12; Chicago, IL
Current Role: Holiday-obsessed nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, whose desperate quest for a Red Ryder BB Gun is chronicled in the classic movie-turned-Broadway musical A Christmas Story.
Catching the Theater Bug: Johnny Rabe’s love of theater began at age two, when his mother took him to see community productions of Peter Pan and Cinderella (the latter starring his older brother Jimmy). “My mom said that while most two-year-olds would be asleep, I would be standing on the chair watching, not missing a thing,” he recalls. By four, Rabe was quipping, “I would direct it differently.” He went on to tackle standard kid roles himself, including an orphan in Oliver! and Gavroche in Les Miserables. “I’ve learned to savor the time with every single person in every show I do, because eventually the show closes,” says a wisened Rabe. By fifth grade, he made his professional theater debut as Winthrop in The Music Man at Chicago’s Marriott Theater, a production that was made easier by his history playing sports. “Practices for baseball, soccer and football were a complete workout, so when I went to do Music Man, I was dancing and thought, ‘Well, this isn’t that hard!’”
A Christmas Tradition: Even before he donned the iconic bunny suit in A Christmas Story, Rabe had a history with the 1983 holiday movie: It’s his father’s favorite film, and marathon viewings are a family tradition, even during the summer. “My dad loves corny, cheesy things, so of course we watch it all the time,” he says fondly. It was thus fitting that Rabe auditioned for the 2011 touring company of A Christmas Story, landing a role in the ensemble. After the tour, he started taking voice lessons in anticipation of a second audition—this time for Broadway. “I wasn’t as scared as I would have been, auditioning for a Broadway musical, because I was surrounded by friends who were in the show last year,” he remembers. Producers were impressed by the now-older Rabe, who bested more than 500 kids for the leading role of Ralphie. “He’s persistent, and so am I,” Rabe says of his character. “When Christmas comes around and there’s something I want, I do everything I can to get it.” The actor even relates to Ralphie’s fabled love of a Red Ryder BB gun—a gift that Rabe himself received for Christmas last year. “I completely understand why he wants to get it. I love that gun!”
An Old Soul: So what does a 12-year-old Broadway star do to kick back? “I love playing with Nerf swords and playing strategy battle games like Risk and Stratego,” Rabe says of his offstage hobbies, which he has put on hold since moving to New York for A Christmas Story’s limited run. “I also love history. I think it would be fun to be a professor of military history at a really good college like Harvard or Stanford.” Rabe’s career aspirations are not surprising if you actually meet the kid, who's a prime example of a young man with an old soul. “My favorite shows are Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke, I Love Lucy… and I love old movies,” he gushes. But Rabe definitely acts his age—or at least he will, once he gets home to Chicago in January, where the first thing he’ll do is indulge in an annual Harry Potter movie marathon with his brother. At the moment, however, his focus is on his real-life Christmas list. “The first of December is when I start vigorously looking,” exclaims Rabe. “This year, I would really like a battle-ready katana samurai sword. A real one.” Careful, kid—you’ll cut your eye out!