Review: ‘A Christmas Story Live!’ Wasn’t Lively Enough


From left, Maya Rudolph, Andy Walken, Tyler Wladis and Chris Diamantopoulos in Fox’s “A Christmas Story Live.”

Jordin Althaus/ FOX

Judging by last year’s “Grease” telecast and this year’s “A Christmas Story,” the Fox network seems to like everything about live television except the “live” part. A game cast, lively score and sturdy source material made Fox’s big holiday spectacular “A Christmas Story Live!” a pleasant enough way to pass a mid-December Sunday evening. But the presentation throughout was a letdown — like getting pink bunny pajamas for Christmas instead of a Red Ryder BB gun.

Director Bob Clark’s original 1983 movie followed a winding path toward becoming a yuletide staple. Based on the radio monologuist Jean Shepherd’s stories of growing up in a small town outside Chicago in the 1930s, “A Christmas Story” disappeared from theaters quickly, only to find an audience on TV for its honest, funny take on how children process holiday stress.

One of the earliest works of “Dear Evan Hansen”/“La La Land” composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Tony-nominated stage musical version of “A Christmas Story” has been a regional theater favorite since debuting in 2009. Fox’s live broadcast (ably co-directed by Scott Ellis and Alex Rudzinski) smartly emphasized what sets the show apart from the film: big production numbers, putting across generally tuneful songs.

But while producing the musical live on the Warner Bros. Burbank studio backlot allowed for some impressively splashy moments — primarily anything spotlighting Broadway regulars Chris Diamantopoulos and Jane Krakowski — the staging made it look like a slightly shaggier version of a taped TV special. No one watching would’ve known this was a live production if not for the periodic cheers from an invisible audience and the occasional blown line.

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Oddly enough, most of the stumbles came from stage vet Matthew Broderick, who played the narrator: an adult version of Shepherd’s stand-in Ralphie Parker, looking back on growing up with his gruff father (Mr. Diamantopoulos) and overprotective mother (an ingratiating Maya Rudolph). While he huffed and puffed a bit early on, Mr. Broderick’s folksy charisma made up for his surprisingly frequent gaffes.

Andy Walken was a fine version of the young Ralphie, even if his primary asset was his resemblance to the film’s bespectacled star, Peter Billingsley. Like the movie, Fox’s musical (only slightly modified from the stage) followed an episodic structure, framing one kid’s holiday misadventures around his efforts to convince his parents to buy him an air rifle for Christmas.

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