Songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul weren't even born when the nostalgic 1940s-set film "A Christmas Story" debuted to a modest reception in 1983. In contrast to the perfect, snow-flocked "White Christmas" that Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney enjoyed in that movie musical, storyteller Jean Shepherd's tale of one bedraggled clan's holiday captured something unique about the holidays — the alternating hope and dysfunction underneath.
Peter Billingsley, who was about 12 years old when he pined away on screen for a Red Ryder BB Gun as Ralphie, is now among the producers of the Broadway musical adaptation (aptly called A Christmas Story, The Musical) that has decked the halls of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre after a 2010 Seattle debut and a mini-holiday tour last season.
"Everybody believed in the film and was having a good time doing it," Billingsley recalls. But the film, which was budgeted at a low $4 million at the time, was not a box office hit. "We all sort of thought, 'Well that was fun… and that's it,'" he says. It wasn't until cable and home video began to boom that A Christmas Story became part of the American family holiday tradition.
"I grew up watching it a lot," Paul says. "You didn't need to sit down and watch it, it was on television 24 hours a day around Christmas."
|photo by Carol Rosegg|
Pasek, who hails from a Jewish family, recalls, "I knew there was a scene where a kid stuck his tongue to a flagpole, and that his dad won a leg lamp," he laughs, "but I didn't really have any context for it."
The 20-something writers, who made their New York Off-Broadway debut this season with the dramatic pop musical Dogfight, proved to be the perfect match for A Christmas Story, The Musical, shifting gears to pen a score out of Broadway's Golden-Age tradition of lush hummable ballads and effervescent comic songs. They decorate their take on 1940s America with lyrics that capture the delirious excitement of kids conspiring on their own to get their wish, while mom and dad desperately attempt an orchestrated pageant of civility and cheer as the lights on the Christmas tree spark to life — literally.
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