Music & Lyrics: Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Although the songwriting team of Pasek & Paul aren’t exactly household names, currently their stock is very high. Not only did they write the songs for the recent Hugh Jackman movie The Greatest Showman, they won an Oscar for City of Stars which they wrote for La La Land. Oh, and their hugely popular musical Dear Evan Hansen won six Tony Awards last year. All of this success must have no doubt helped Fox decide that their newest live broadcasted musical production would be Pasek & Paul’s A Christmas Story: The Musical which premiered in 2012. Unfortunately, the broadcast (made on December 17th 2017) was met with mediocre-at-best reviews – but that doesn’t really matter as this review is of its soundtrack recording.
The musical is based on the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, a festive classic in North America that gets shown numerous times on TV over the holidays. The story is made up of a series of vignettes centred around nine-year-old Ralphie Parker, his family and their fellow residents of Hohman, Indiana in 1940. The main plot follows Ralphie’s desperate attempts to secure a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas despite everyone warning “you’ll shoot your eye out”. It’s a wonderful piece of nostalgic Americana that looks like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. Musicals have been made of stranger source material.
The score is actually very good. The songs are all fun with the lyrics being witty and clever. The tunes are all melodious and although none are particularly memorable, they are entertaining while they last. Standout numbers include When You’re a Wimp sung by a group of put-upon children, A Major Award where Ralphie’s dad (played by Chris Diamantopoulos) celebrates winning a hideous lamp shaped like a woman’s leg in a competition, and the taunting You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out headed up by the wonderful Jane Krakowski as Ralphie’s teacher.
Carrying much of the soundtrack is Andy Walken as Ralphie. Unlike many musical theatre child performers, Walken offers a sincere and natural performance with strong vocals throughout. The same can be said of all of the children here. Matthew Broderick appears as the Narrator (aka adult Ralphie) and invests his lines with warmth. Maya Rudolph plays Ralphie’s mother and Ana Gasteyer is Mrs. Schwartz who belts out an ode to Hanukkah in a song written for this broadcast called In the Market for a Miracle. The cast all perform well and the result is an infectious romp.
The big issue with this soundtrack is that every element is full-on all of the time. The songs are heavily orchestrated which is sometimes distracting. The tempos are almost always fast, the harmonies are often a little too rich, the lyrics are intricate and the performances offer little nuance. Very much like Christmas day itself, the entire score offers little time to take a breath and leaves the listener a little exhausted – but quietly satisfied – at the end of it.
Album available from Warner Music