World Premiere Recording, 2012 (Masterworks Broadway) (4 / 5) In this stage adaptation of the film of the same title about a boy who really wants a BB gun for Christmas, songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul demonstrate their craft through songs too good-natured and sturdily built to be faulted for their basically pastiche elements. There are jazzy tap numbers, western-inspired romps, and lots of jingling holiday fare with golden-age melodic coutours. The pair clearly had a blast assembling this score, even if the film’s episodic structure doesn’t always lend itself to effective musical storytelling; sequences like “Ralphie to the Rescue” and the endless “A Major Award” suggest that some of the dance arrangements and extended numbers could have been trimmed for the recording. But the otherwise warmly jocular score froths into something more soaring in three tracks that show off Pasek and Paul’s gifts for inventing joyous melody and showcasing kids’ voices: “Counting Down to Christmas,” “Somewhere Hovering Over Indiana,” and the gentle title song are all gems that make a strong case for this album as a keeper. Its warmth and shimmer are largely due to the gorgeous orchestrations of Larry Blank, perhaps some of the best of the 2010s in their brassy clarity and Christmasy sumptuousness. The cast of this “World Premiere Recording” largely represents the 2011 pre-Broadway touring company, with the exceptions of Liz Callaway as Ralphie’s mother and Tom Wopat as the grownup Narrator. (These performers never played these roles on stage.) Callaway is a redemptive presence, her tender, honest tone always keeping the ballads on the safe side of saccharine. And Clarke Hallum makes a meal out of Ralphie’s substantial amount of material, which allow for some astonishingly non-grating pre-teen belting. — Dan Rubins
Television Cast, 2017 (Warner Bros.) (4 / 5) The cast album of the live TV production of A Christmas Story sounds splendid, even when compared to the sparkly original recording. Presumably, Larry Blank’s magnificent orchestrations benefit here from larger instrumentation than they received previously. As a result, songs that grew a bit wearisome on the first recording — such as “When You’re A Wimp” and “Sticky Situation” — here have enough big-band pizzazz to hold focus. In the role of the dismissive teacher (“You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!”), Jane Krakowski is luxury casting. So too is Maya Rudolph; though she’s not a seasoned musical theater performer, she taps into her pre-Saturday Night Live singing background, bringing a wearied edge to “What A Mother Does” and a simple warmth to “Just Like That.” Matthew Broderick’s wistful voice is a good fit for the Narrator. And as young Ralphie, Andy Walken follows formidably in the shoes of Clarke Hallum. With just a tad less musical-theater brightness in his vibrato, Walken has equal emotional heft as his predecessor in the role. For the most part, the track list here matches that of the world premiere recording, with the additions of a forgettable credits song, “Count on Christmas” (performed by pop star Bebe Rexha) and a rather amusing Hanukkah number, “In the Market for A Miracle” (delivered with chutzpah by another SNL alumna with Broadway bona fides, Ana Gasteyer). — D.R.