For decades, readers have delighted in A Christmas Memory, Truman Capote’s short story relating his boyhood friendship with an elderly cousin named Sook. The adventures that the narrator (referred to as “Buddy”) shares with his friend around Christmastime—collecting fruitcake ingredients, searching for the perfect Christmas tree and flying kites—have found their way into television and radio adaptations. Now, thanks to the combined creative force of writer Duane Poole, composer Larry Grossman and lyricist Carol Hall, Capote’s tale has been translated into a world-premiere musical at TheatreWorks.

One senses that this play could be a bit leaner; as it stands, it feels drawn-out, with a few too many songs. On the plus side, the songs are elegantly crafted and allow even the minor characters to become fully fleshed out. There are slower tunes with a touch of melancholy alongside more upbeat refrains; one of the latter, the jolly “Mighty Sweet Music,” is the musical highlight of the evening. The casting could not have been better, with the Emmy-winning and Tony-nominated Penny Fuller as Sook and TheatreWorks veteran Gabriel Hoffman as young Buddy.

The play is faithful to its source material, with much of Capote’s language included in the book and even woven into the songs. However, the original story has been expanded upon with some added characters, including a grown-up version of Buddy (played by Joshua Park), who narrates. There is the household authority figure, Jennie Faulk (Eileen Barnett), and housekeeper Anna Stabler (Cathleen Riddley). Some of the most entertaining scenes feature Jennifer Chapman as Nelle Harper, a young version of Capote’s lifelong friend Harper Lee and the spitting image of Scout from the movie of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Incidentally, Jennifer Chapman and Gabriel Hoffman appeared in TheatreWorks’ production of Mockingbird as Scout and Dill (who is modeled on Truman Capote).

Richard Farrell plays another of Buddy’s relatives, the kindly Seabon Faulk, but is transformed unrecognizably into Haha Jones, a creepy bootlegger to whom local legend has ascribed a nasty reputation. In the short story, Haha appears briefly when Buddy and Sook go to him for the whiskey that their fruitcake recipe calls for. In the musical, Haha becomes something of a Boo Radley and is the subject of a double dog dare by Nelle. Capote had an unusual childhood, but his sense of holiday nostalgia is universal. The musical, while it could use some fine-tuning, captures this feeling beautifully.

A Christmas Memory
Through Dec. 26;
Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto
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