Track-by-Track Breakdown: Go Deep on the Andrew Keenan-Bolger–Led Kris Kringle Cast Album

Cast Recordings & Albums   Track-by-Track Breakdown: Go Deep on the Andrew Keenan-Bolger–Led Kris Kringle Cast Album
 
Bookwriter Maria Ciampi shares behind-the-scenes stories of the Kris Kringle The Musical score just in time for the holidays.

When earlier this year we left the Power Station in Manhattan after recording the studio cast album for Kris Kringle The Musical was recorded—it's now available From Yellow Sound Label!—we knew we’d accomplished something extraordinary. Indeed, in just a few short months a barely known Christmas musical not only became a “show” at Town Hall in New York City but also became, as Andrew Keenan-Bolger, who played the title role, later said, “A holiday musical for a new generation—a gorgeous score paired with a heartwarming tale of family and forgiveness.”

READ: Kris Kringle Musical, With Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Nikki Renée Daniels, Released on Yellow Sound Label

As with most musicals, Kris Kringle was developed over many years. In fact, it started as a screenplay at a time when the division among us was not as great as today and when our society did not seem so fractured. It has not been lost on us that the show may be a fable of our time and a possible source of healing, even on a small scale. Indeed, people who have seen the show have said how, as a result, they have reached out to family members and friends with whom they had not spoken, sometimes for years. To be sure, Kris Kringle The Musical is funny, with Christmas jokes, lawyer jokes, Elvis jokes, and physical and situational comedy, but all the while the show leads the audience on a journey to a cathartic ending.

“Prologue & Kris Kringle”
This track introduces young Kris Kringle, a chaotic, jobless toymaker who has discovered in the stars a toy that he promises to make in memory of his grandma. As foreshadowed in that song, the story of Kris’s journey to make that toy is told with laughter, love, and even tears as he becomes a dancing star and, in the process, finds and heals his broken family.

The opening song, unsurprisingly, was a challenge. The original opening was an audience pleaser when the show was in development, but did not fully flesh out Kris Kringle’s character and core issue, his desire to make a toy for his grandma but his inability to keep a job in order to do so. In writing the “Prologue,” we chose to place the proverbial spotlight directly on Kris as we hear Andrew Keenan-Bolger’s pure tenor sing of his grandma and his desire to make this wonderful toy; then, in “Kris Kringle,” we allowed the music to build and the onstage hustle and bustle of New York City to do so as well until, at its height, all of New York City is singing with Kris, cheering him on in making his magical toy.

“Unwrap the Christmas Magic”
Part of the challenge of Kris Kringle was to ensure that Kris, while innocent, is also believable so that by the story’s end it is credible that Kris brings the warring parties to peace and resolution. Another challenge in the story was to portray Santa as a real person with real problems. We accomplished this goal in two ways. First, we see Santa is a loving person through his interactions with Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus knows all of Santa’s “peccadillos” and is able to nudge him in just the right way to keep him from becoming a cynical and ill-tempered CEO of the North Pole. Fortunately, Greg Violand (Santa) and Kim Crosby (Mrs. Claus) made this look easy. Second, we see Santa’s heart through his theme song, “Unwrap the Christmas Magic,” which he sings to “naughty” children at the Christmas Parade to help them turn “nice.” Indeed, when we hear Santa with the children, Santa is at his best and we recognize why his name is loved around the world.

“What Is So Merry ‘Bout Christmas?”
When, at the behest of friends and fans, we were encouraged to adapt the screenplay into a musical, one of the first songs that came to our mind was “What Is So Merry ‘Bout Christmas?” You immediately know that it’s the theme song for the story’s villain, which, in this case is toy company mogul Roy G. Reedy. Reedy is not thrilled—to say the least—that children are turning nice as a result of Santa’s Christmas Parade song because that means they’ll be receiving free toys from Santa this year. It’s wonderful to hear Reedy and his evil sidekick and lawyer, Ms. Horn, bemoan Christmas and Santa in this track imbued with inner rhymes, and Eric Devine and Janine LaManna are up for the job.

“What Is So Merry ‘Bout Christmas? (Reprise)”
There’s nothing funnier than seeing antagonists gloat over a trap they think they’ve set, which you just know is going to backfire. When Reedy and Ms. Horn plot to send an unwitting Kris to the North Pole incognito to set the “Kringle Curse” in motion to destroy Christmas, you can feel their gloating in the upbeat, jazzy music and lyrics (“I’ll count my loot in January”).

“Beautiful”
When we heard the original demo of this track sung by Nick Pitera, we knew we had found Kris’s song. “Beautiful” takes us on a journey as, seeing the star-filled sky of the North Pole, Kris feels for the first time that perhaps he has found the place he can call home; for the first time, Kris also experiences love, when he meets Evelyn Noel. This song could not be more universal to the human experience. Part way through the track, Evelyn Noel introduces herself, and his joke on hearing her last name is quintessential Kris Kringle: “Wow, I never met anyone with that name before. You’re the first Noel!” The track also brings us back to a central image—the stars—which was the focal point of “Prologue” and which will also be in Evelyn’s song, “My North Star.”

“Santa’s Rulebook”
We wanted to ensure that the show was truly appealing to all ages. In addition, we needed to introduce an important plot point, Santa’s Rulebook, which is the cause of a bit of consternation in the North Pole. Santa tries to make sure things got ultra smoothly by having the Apprentices learn the 100 rules in Santa’s Rulebook. To avoid the feeling of exposition, the track “Santa’s Rulebook” is sung by three of the Elf Children who spy on the Apprentices who are studying. The physical and vocal choreography of the song in which youngsters Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos), Kailyn Hedges, and Jeremy T. Villas (Kinky Boots) are paired off with veterans Gabriel McClinton (Chicago), Jackie Nguyen, and Matt Densky (Wicked, national tour) works well.

“Something Wonderful In You”
Predictably, like oil and water, Kris and Santa’s Rulebook don’t mix. Kris’ dream that he will make a special toy in his grandma’s memory is doused by Rule No. 27: Apprentices and Elves can’t make their own toys. But Mrs. Claus sees that Kris has magic in his heart and encourages him not to give up. This track is traditional Broadway. It is gorgeously sung by Kim Crosby, and the oboe and cello work beautifully to underscore Mrs. Claus’s emotional intelligence, elegance, and wisdom.

“Green Suede Shoes”
We wanted Kris to have a nemesis in the North Pole who would act as comic relief but who was, at the same time, always right about what’s really going on. In his own inimitable way, Elvis-wannabe Elmer tries convince Evelyn that he’s the guy for her: “Mama always said that I was one of a kind / Other Elves try to keep up but I leave them far behind / I’m makin’ you an offer / How can you refuse / When I’m walkin’ in style with my green suede shoes.” Finding the right Elmer was more difficult than we imagined, but we found him in Nick Varricchio, who sings with just the right touch of Elvis and Elf.

“My North Star”
Because we knew that this track would be emotional and moving, we had to write numerous script drafts to find its best place, and landed between the upbeat and lighter tracks “Green Suede Shoes” and “Skip Ba Doo.” In “My North Star,” Evelyn sings to her mother, who died when Evelyn was ten years old, to ask for help with her burgeoning—and unsettling—feelings for Kris. Prior to the Town Hall performance we pondered whether to replace the track, but its imagery is so rich that we decided not to: “Mother, you will always be/My North Star so I can see my way in the dark of night.” We know we’ve made the right choice not only from the audience’s reaction at Town Hall and Nikki Renée Daniels’ performance, but also because of the over 1.25 million streams we’ve had of the track in the short time since the album was released.

“Skip Ba Doo”
Evelyn may be confused about her feelings for Kris, but Kris’ fellow Apprentices are not. We tried to find words/sounds that would succinctly express the Apprentices’ view of Kris, and “Skip Ba Doo” fit the bill as they think he is the greatest toymaker, particularly when he makes a magical toy for Evelyn in violation of Rule No. 27. The conflict between “rules/order” and “creativity/chaos,” a theme woven throughout the show, is portrayed lyrically and vocally when the Apprentices sing Read and study/Read and study/Read some more and then” during the day, but at night they sing “Skip Ba Do Ba Dip Bob Ba Doo Ba Aye.”

“Beautiful/My North Star (Reprise)”
For our 2011 staged reading at the Kennedy Center, Angelo Natalie was the sole lyricist/composer; in the 2015 developmental production in Ohio, Tim Janis was. As we headed toward Town Hall in 2017, we decided that the best version of the show was one that incorporated music/lyrics from both. “Beautiful/My North Star (Reprise)” is an arrangement of Tim’s song (“Beautiful”) and Angelo’s song (“My North Star”), and is movingly sung by Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Nikki Renée Daniels, whose tonality also worked well together and eased the process.

“Extraordinary”
We knew that we needed a showstopper for the end of Act I. At this point in the story, Kris was the only Apprentice who was not promoted to Elf because Elmer voted against him. Santa sides with Elmer because Santa sees Kris as a “rule-breaker”; Mrs. Claus sides with Evelyn because Mrs. Claus sees the magic in Kris. The solution: If Kris wins Mrs. Claus’ newly announced Toy Competition—with Elmer as judge—Kris can become an Elf. Of course Reedy and Ms. Horn are rooting for Kris to become an Elf, as when Kris does the Kringle Curse will be set in motion. In the original version of this track, the audience’s reaction was lukewarm. We decided to add 65 bars to its beginning to create anticipation, edginess, and urgency, and allow each character to tell their own story. Those additions made a dramatic difference and helped the audience want to come back for Act II at Town Hall.

“Tonight We Will Roar”
The story was moving toward the magical Toy Competition, but we knew we hadn’t heard yet from the constituency that would be most affected by whether Kris became an Elf—the Toys themselves. In “Tonight We Will Roar,” the Toys—real or in Kris’ mind?—cheer him on. But they also highlight the rule-order versus creativity-chaos theme of the show. The track also adds a new celestial image to highlight the theme, as the Toys tell Kris, “So let that spirit of Christmas/That we’ve come to witness/Light up the Aurora Borealis in you!”

“The Kringle Curse”
The moment Reedy and Ms. Horn have been waiting for has finally arrived—Kris wins the Toy Competition and is promoted to Elf, and the Kringle Curse starts to take effect, though barely noticeably to anyone but Elmer. Elmer spreads rumors to the Elves, who panic, as they never believed in the Kringle Curse, which is said to cause the Elves to freeze so that production in the North Pole comes to a halt. The track “The Kringle Curse” musically and lyrically portrays the Elves’ terror building, as Elmer eggs them on.

“Pathway Through”
For Reedy and Ms. Horn, their plan works perfectly—the Elves begin to freeze and production halts. The guileless Kris recognizes evil—perhaps for the first time in his life—and reaches out to his Grandma Kringle for words of wisdom, which she does in fact provide: “There’s always a pathway through.” Not only is this track one of the most powerful for purposes of the story, but you can also feel the magic between veterans Mary Stout and Andrew Keenan-Bolger, particularly during the final lyrics. When we finished the second take of this track at the Power Station, the moment between Mary and Andrew was so magical, so memorable, that everyone—cast, conductor, engineers, orchestra—was silent for a few moments, not wanting it to break the spell.

“Forgiveness”
“Pathway Through” perfectly sets up the track “Forgiveness.” Though hurt when he discovers that Reedy and Ms. Horn used him to ruin Christmas, Kris does not become cynical or vengeful, but, instead, wise, forgiving, and lion-hearted, as he determines to set things right and bring Santa and Reedy together. Kris’s character has grown through his experiences, and yet he remains who he has always been. The track sets forth the message of the story and follows a reveal about Kris’ family (concerning which we have heard audiences gasp). Andrew Keenan-Bolger, Eric Devine, and Greg Violand are perfect in their delivery on this track so that, even if you have never seen the show, you identify and empathize with what is taking place.

“Finale”
In essence a reprise of “Unwrap the Christmas Magic,” the story has come full circle, as now each of the characters wants to feel and to pass on to the audience “the joy and peace that Christmas brings!” This track is jubilant, including, in a comic moment and with a change of tempo, Elmer and Ms. Horn singing “Skip Ba Do Ba Dip Bob Ba Doo Ba Aye,” and also expresses the feeling of new beginnings that forgiveness brings, probably the best gift of the holiday season.

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