December 18, 2017

ShowbuzzDaily TV Review: “A Christmas Story Live”


Coming off its acclaimed, Emmy-winning production of Grease, FOX had the holiday live TV musical market cornered this year, NBC having opted out of its planned Bye Bye Birdie in favor of a Spring 2018 Jesus Christ Superstar.  FOX zigged a bit from past practices, choosing the recent (and short-lived) Broadway musical adaptation of the 1983 movie A CHRISTMAS STORY (itself based on Jean Shepherd’s memoirs of his 1940s childhood), rather than a classic stage property.  The network did, however, load the cast with experienced live stage and TV performers, including Maya Rudolph, Jane Krakowski, Matthew Broderick, Ana Gasteyer, and Fred Armisen, and added more songs from the Broadway version’s team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who are culminating a stellar Oscar- and Tony-winning year for La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen.

Like Grease, A Christmas Story Live was a logistical achievement, shifting seamlessly from interiors to exteriors with the fluidity of a feature film.  The script by Robert Cary and Jonathan Tolins preserved the major plot points of the movie:  Ralphie’s (Andy Walken) desire for a Christmas BB gun, his father’s (Chris Diamantopolous) joy and his mother’s (Rudolph) repulsion at winning a lamp in the shake of a fishnet-stockinged leg, Ralphie’s friend making the ill-advised decision to touch his tongue to a flagpole, and so on.  But overall, this Christmas Story was a victim of undistinguished source material and wild overproduction that ballooned the original 94-minute movie far beyond its modest charms.  Directors Scott Ellis and Alex Rudzinski were so determined to display the scale of the production with lengthy unbroken shots that many of the scenes seemed to be photographed with a weirdly fish-eye look that was particularly odd in Christmas Story‘s homespun context.  The cast was mostly fine, with the revelation being that Diamantopolous is a crackerjack song-and-dance man, but the production’s young lead was more energetic than distinctive.  Having Matthew Broderick as the theatrical device of a visible narrator (Ralphie grown up) who also played incidental roles made sense in that Broderick is a thorough professional, but his dampened-energy vibe didn’t fit the rest of the show.

More fundamentally, there just wasn’t enough here to justify 3-hours of television, and Pasek and Paul’s songs were occasionally catchy but mostly colorless.  (The impersonality extended to the live commercial for The Greatest Showman, yet another Pasek/Paul musical project that opens in theaters 2 days from now.)  Blown up into a succession of huge production numbers, they helped to strip the story of its original sense of 1940s midwest reality.

There were certainly enjoyable sequences.  Aside from Diamantopolous, Gasteyer belted out a new Hanukkah number with so much commitment that you could forget it had no business being in the show.  Krakowski was aces in the big dance number, and Rudolph, along with singing well, restored some humanity to her scenes with Ralphie.

The acerbic undertone to the material, however, was largely gone, and that left a tale that seemed bland.  Before long, as Ralphie kept singing about how many days were left until Christmas, it felt as though we were living through every one of them with him.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."