This holiday season, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul have been given the gift of reflection and reconsideration. The songwriting team made their Broadway debuts in 2012 with the musical adaptation of A Christmas Story following two out-of-town tryouts; five years (and an Oscar and Tony) later, the two have the chance to revisit their 1940s pastiche once more—this time, for the small screen.
“There’s a great saying: ‘Musicals are never finished; they’re just abandoned,’” says Pasek on the set of Fox’s A Christmas Story Live!, airing December 17 from Warner Brothers Studios in Los Angeles. “At a certain point it’s just pencils down; you have to open the show.”
No longer abandoned, Pasek and Paul’s score is given new, post-La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen life, with the two revisiting dynamics between characters, tweaking lyrics, and penning entirely new songs. While many of those changes come from the opportunity to revise, changes must also be made to fulfill the requirements of the new medium.
Onstage, songs fill two acts separated by an intermission. On screen, they span over a dozen acts, each flanked by commercials. “You have to divide the show up into multiple acts, which means something has to happen in each of the 12 to 14 acts,” explains music director Ian Eisendrath. “That dictates musical structure.”
Though no strangers to writing beyond the theatrical act structure (penning lyrics for La La Land and the score for the upcoming The Greatest Showman, as well as songs for The Flash and Smash), the experience of filling several blocks with music was, as Paul explains, “a mind-spinning thing for us to wrap our heads around.”
The two had a strong foundation (about 16 numbers from the Broadway production). But to add to the song list, Pasek and Paul first looked at an unsung—and in the film, unseen—character: Mrs. Schwartz.
Though never explicitly addressed in any iteration of the story, the Schwartz family is likely Jewish. “Let’s address it: The Schwartz family doesn’t celebrate Christmas,” Paul says. “We found a moment for Ralphie to go to the Schwartzs’ house, and he’s brought into this world of Hanukkah and their celebration.”
Tasked with debuting the new, belty number, titled “In the Market for a Miracle,” is Broadway and SNL alum Ana Gasteyer. The experience, she says, is a career highlight: “When you get a phone call saying Pasek and Paul want to write a song for you, you say yes. I’m so excited—and so desperate—to do a good job on it. It’s hard to sing; it’s fun to sing.”
The number will be featured on the new cast recording, to be released following the broadcast (though the broadcast itself will feature live performances). A cast album was released in 2010 following the world premiere, which the collaborators now call their first draft. As the show evolved leading to its Broadway bow, numbers were added (including “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out,” performed on the Tony Awards). “By the time it got to Broadway, it was a whole new show,” says Paul.
The broadcast will also open with a new song written specifically for the live event: “Count on Christmas,” performed by singer-songwriter Bebe Rexha.
Musicals may never be finished, but for Paul, preserving the current score “really feels like closing the loop. This is now the definitive version of the show.”