For the first time in its 49-year history, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is up for a Tony Award, the annual prize that recognizes the best plays and musicals on Broadway each season.
“A Christmas Story, the Musical,” which received its world premiere in 2009 at the Rep, was one of four nominees for Best Musical announced Tuesday. The show, based on the writings of humorist Jean Shepherd and director Bob Clark’s beloved 1983 movie, also was nominated for its book (by Joseph Robinette) and score (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, music and lyrics).
The Rep and the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle, where the show was staged after its Kansas City premiere, were among a long list of producers of “A Christmas Story” in its Broadway incarnation. Because of its seasonal nature, the show received a limited Broadway run from Nov. 19 through Dec. 30.
“I think it’s a testament to the art that can be produced in Kansas City,” said Scott Boswell, the Rep’s board chairman.
When artistic director Eric Rosen was hired five years ago, elevating the Rep’s national profile was one of the expectations spelled out by the board.
“A Christmas Story” is one of three shows connected to the Rep to have received New York productions so far. The others were “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” for which the Rep was a co-producer, and “Clay,” a one-man hip-hop musical that traveled to New York for a limited off-Broadway run after its engagement at the Rep.
Now, Rosen is in New York rehearsing “Venice,” an original musical he wrote with Matt Sax and which will open next month at the Public Theater, a prestigious off-Broadway company that has a history of transferring shows to Broadway. “Venice” received its world premiere at the Rep in 2010 and opens this month in New York.
Boswell said he also viewed the “Christmas Story” nominations as the result of 49 years of continual creative growth at the Rep “culminating in art recognized on a national stage.”
In order to produce the premiere of “A Christmas Story,” the Rep had to forgo its annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” a longtime audience favorite. There was some concern that the decision might alienate the potential audience for “A Christmas Story.”
“The Rep took some risks here,” Boswell said.
But in its initial Kansas City run, the show turned out to be a hit.
Rosen, in a prepared statement, extolled the popularity of the show in its original Kansas City run, calling it “the largest hit in Rep history.”
“I never would have dreamed that the Rep’s world premiere would go on to be honored with three Tony nominations,” Rosen said.
Producer Gerald Goehring, an alumnus of Wichita State University, also issued a statement.
“I can easily trace what I saw on stage at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (in New York) to those magical nights at the Rep,” Goehring said. “The love, care and integrity the entire Kansas City Rep organization infused the show with remained with the production. The Rep has been a terrific producing partner as we journeyed from Cherry Street in Kansas City to 45th Street in New York City.”
Other shows nominated for Best Musical are “Bring it On: The Musical,” “Kinky Boots” and “Matilda the Musical.” The annual awards show, to be broadcast by CBS, will be June 9.