Is there a film that better represents childhood in the holiday season than A Christmas Story? For 24 years, little Ralphie Parker’s yuletide misadventures have entertained millions, and acted as a surefire way to get into the ever elusive Christmas spirit. The film’s popularity somehow seems to grow every year with TBS claiming to have raked in 50 million viewers over the course of their 2010 A Christmas Story marathon. So what do you give the movie that has everything (even a museum based on it) for the holidays? A musical adaptation, of course.
“Because the story is so well known and so beloved, it seems like a no-brainer to put it on the stage and turn it into a musical,” says Chris Carsten, who portrays narrator Jean Sheperd in A Christmas Story: The Musical. The musical runs through the same beats as the movie. Ralphie wants a Red Ryder BB gun, The Old Man wins a major award, and Santa Claus kicks a kid in the face. “All those crazy antics that happen in the movie, they also happen in the musical,” says Carsten. “It comes with a certain expectation because they’ve [the audience] probably seen the movie, more often than not, and I don’t think they’re disappointed. We follow that story pretty faithfully.”
The musical adaptation of this endlessly quotable film first hit the stage in 2009 in Kansas City, Mo., with a Broadway production in 2012. Peter Billingsley (better known as the original Ralphie Parker) was one of the Broadway show’s producers, assuring the similarities to the source material.
A Christmas Story: The Musical has received plenty of praise, accumulating three Tony Award nominations, including best musical and best original score. For Carsten, the praise all goes to the musical numbers. “They are clever. They have wonderful lyrics that blend in seamlessly with the story. The melodies are catchy and memorable,” he says. It’s no surprise considering the composers of the musical, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, went on to win both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for their song “City of Stars” in the film La La Land.
While the musical may never be as popular as the movie, it’s definitely doing well for itself. “The play is picking up steam every year, year in and year out,” says Carsten. “I think it has a lot of longevity.” If there’s any indication of the esteem the musical has gained, it’s A Christmas Story: Live. Following in the vain of Grease: Live, this broadcast of a live showing of the musical will air on FOX in honor of the holidays. “It’s just a story that lends itself to being able to work in different forms,” says Carsten.
The actor has been playing his part for four years, meaning he’s had plenty of time to consider the popularity of the film and musical. “I think everyone can relate to having that kind of a Christmas where things go wrong and there’s that one present that you really, really want,” he says. As he points out, the universality of A Christmas Story, alongside its hefty amount of eccentricities, makes it perfect for the different incarnations it’s seen over the years. “It’s not your typical ‘Christmas story’ story,” says Carsten. “It’s offbeat, it’s quirky.”
A Christmas Story: The Musical follows in the tradition of these stories being adapted across different platforms. The main plot points for A Christmas Story were originally vignettes composed by Jean Sheperd for his book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. “When the film first came out, it didn’t have that big of a following, but the following has grown over the years,” says Carsten. “People followed Jean Sheperd.”
Throughout various mediums, Ralphie’s story has become a classic, and Carsten believes the musical is also on the fast track to the same cult esteem. “I think it will be continued to be produced for years to come,” he says. “I feel like our production could go on almost indefinitely.”
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