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BWW Album Review: KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL Is A Lot of Christmas Cheer

BWW Album Review: KRIS KRINGLE THE MUSICAL Is A Lot of Christmas Cheer

Is there such a thing as too much Christmas cheer? The creators of Kris Kringle: The Musical, out now as a studio cast recording, certainly don't think so. The upbeat, cheery tale of an earnest dreamer of a toymaker is as light and sweet as a sugar cookie loaded with red-and-green frosting. Its substance, however, is similar to that sugary treat: delightful at first, but just a little too much after a while.

In this album, we are treated to an origin story of how the world's most famous toymaker came to be, in a tale that blends Christmas optimism with a Hallmark-ready plot about forgiveness, family, and the meaning of the season. The original story, book, and additional lyrics are by Maria Ciampi, with Tim Janis and Angelo Natalie sharing credit for the music and lyrics.

This album's greatest asset by far is its cast, a nimble group of performers who enthusiastically put their all into the comedic voice acting and multi-part harmonies scattered throughout the score. Leading the way is Andrew Keenan-Bolger as the toymaker of the title. His vocal dexterity makes him an ideal choice for the earnest, sometimes comic protagonist of the tale. While Keenan-Bolger has the opportunity to ham it up on the punchline-filled up-tempo songs on the album, he's at his finest in the softer moments that reveal a remarkable purity to his tenor. "Beautiful," a ballad that gives us a peek into Kris's outlook on the world, gives him the chance to shine. Similarly, leading lady Nikki Renee Daniels has her moment to strip away the noise and embrace a heartfelt, lovely moment in "My North Star."

What sets those moments apart from the rest of the score, frankly, is their willingness to lean on simple and effective lyrics and melodies. Nothing in this score is trying to reinvent the wheel, and it doesn't need to. But too often, the lyrics carry too many expository duties and expected rhymes. The "Prologue" that opens the album, for instance, takes care of a large chunk of plot and backstory to get audiences situated, but does so with word choices that occasionally sacrifice lyricism and scansion for plot function.

The music, too, seems to rely often on familiar territory, and at times doesn't seem to know what style it is. Much of the score, notably "Unwrap The Christmas Magic," has a very upbeat, relentlessly optimistic tone that would not be out of place in a TV Christmas special; it fondly reminded me more than a little of the made-for-TV holiday figure skating specials I used to watch as a child; I half expected Scott Hamilton and Snowden the Snowman to make an appearance! But then it shifts gears into musical parody, with the Elvis-referencing "Green Suede Shoes," the big-band pastiche "Skip Ba Doo," and the perkiest rebellion song in history, "Tonight We Will Roar."

That element of parody seems to be one of the biggest challenges regarding this album finding its voice. Because it leans so heavily into playing moments big and broad, with the music and lyrics setting that tone, the sense of tension and character gets lost in the shuffle. Nowhere is this more evident than "The Kringle Curse," a song with a self-explanatory title and a cartoonish "curse song" sound. The lyrics sing, "This isn't a joke!" but because of what we've heard so far, it's hard to gauge whether that admonishment is a self-aware wink or a genuine statement.

Kris Kringle: The Musical is a sweet, if unsurprising, addition to the canon of holiday musicals. The cast brings out the best in this album; it's a score that's as easy on the ear as whipped cream on holiday hot cocoa.

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From This Author Amanda Prahl

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