ON THE RECORD: A Christmas Story, Plus Mini-Albums of Shuffle Along and Blackbirds of 1928

By Steven Suskin
26 Feb 2012

Clarke Hallum
Photo by Carol Rosegg
There are a good handful of additional musical high spots, including the sweetly nostalgic "A Kid at Christmas" and the warm-as-chestnuts-on-the-fire "A Christmas Story." But the craft Pasek and Paul display is typified by "Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana." This is one of those kids-staying-up-late-on-Christmas-Eve-waiting-for-Santa-to-land songs. But the writers don't chose something generic like "somewhere high in the sky of Indiana" or "somewhere over the trees of Indiana"; Ralphie, an unusual and imaginative boy, would pick such a word as "hovering" (and repeat it every time the title phrase rolls around). I don't know if the authors got the word from the film, or from the original story, but it is a tricky word to use in a lyric. This results in a song that is not only good and all-embracing, but so very right for the show.

It is choices like this which make much of the score so very special. While there is no need to compare one songwriting pair to another, these guys seem to have something of the sensibility and taste of Bock & Harnick. Which is a very good place to start.

Let it be added that the score is buoyed by a fine set of orchestrations by Larry Blank, in a '40s eclectic swing mode and accompanied by all sorts of humorous touches (including recurring strains in Baby Boomer cowboy music style when Ralphie gets carried away with dreams of his BB gun). Blank's judicious use of a harp helps camouflage the fact that the 17-piece band is without strings. Ian Eisendrath, from the 5th Avenue in Seattle, conducts. It all sounds especially good for a non-label affair, not surprisingly so as the album was produced by David Caddick and David Lai.

The twentysomething Pasek and Paul — both of whom graduated from the University of Michigan in 2006 — seem to be furiously active these days, with several musicals in development. (Their college musical Edges, with which I am unfamiliar, is already available on the stock & amateur market.) The boys' next project will beat A Christmas Story to town; Dogfight, under the direction of Joe Mantello, is scheduled to open at Second Stage in June. It is hoped that A Christmas Story will follow before Macy's Thanksgiving Parade next rolls through Times Square. If the cast album is any indication, A Christmas Story just might be a musical for all seasons.