Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE!
A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE! aired last night on FOX, starring Maya Rudolph ("Saturday Night Live," "Bridesmaids"), Matthew Broderick ("How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying," "The Producers," "Manchester by the Sea"), Jane Krakowski ("Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," "30 Rock"), Chris Diamantopoulos ("Good Girls Revolt," "Silicon Valley," "Episodes"), Ana Gasteyer ("Saturday Night Live") and newcomer Andy Walken. The broadcast was inspired by the holiday classic feature A CHRISTMAS STORY and the Tony Award-nominated Broadway production A CHRISTMAS STORY: THE MUSICAL.
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (DEAR EVAN HANSEN, LA LA LAND) who composed the original score to "A Christmas Story: The Musical," composed several new songs for the LIVE television event. Marc Platt ("Grease: Live," "La La Land," "Wicked") and Adam Siegel ("Grease: Live") executive-produced with Jonathan Tolins and Robert Cary ("Grease: Live," "Anything but Love," "Ira & Abby") serving as co-executive producers and writers. Scott Ellis (the 2016 Broadway revival of "She Loves Me," "Weeds") served as the director overseeing the stage direction, while Alex Rudzinski ("Grease: Live," "Dancing with the Stars") served as the live television director.
Let's see what the critics had to say:
Matt Tamanini, BroadwayWorld: However, what did work in this A CHRISTMAS STORY worked very well, and it might just be the thing that turns this into a holiday classic of its own. Perhaps it is the spirit of holiday generosity I'm feeling, but the moments in the broadcast that felt the most seamless and authentic were the ones in which the ensemble of children performed. A group of incredibly talented youngsters, some with Broadway credits, gave joyous, triple-threat performances that provided the affair with much of its heart and humor.
Noel Murray, The New York Times: 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.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: This production's chief shortcoming is that it lacks the advantage of instantly recognizable songs and edgy material. But the show's wholesome Middle American pleasures no doubt sparked plenty of smiles, especially for lovers of the source material.
Jen Chaney, Jackson McHenry, and Tara Abell, Vulture: There are some tender moments in the film, which runs for 24 straight hours on TBS every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but there's also a delicious dark streak running through it that the musical version avoided entirely. A Christmas Story Live! was too insistent on being nice, when it would have benefitted from a lot more naughty, and not just the leg-lamp kind.
Kelly Lawler, USA Today: Although the cast is quite appealing and the show well staged (with hardly a hiccup or blooper), it couldn't liven up the flat material. A three-hour runtime made it a slog, and the musical was overstuffed with songs, some added from the 2009 Broadway musical adapted from it. Jokes were too far apart and never seemed to land (and strangely, an unseen audience applauded for songs but didn't laugh at punchlines).
Darren Franich, Entertainment Weekly: The kids were very fun - what am I, Satan? - and the best sequence in the show occurred somewhere in the tenth hour, with the child ensemble dancing on a snowy street in their pajamas. The sheer impossibility of performing precise choreography on snow gave the whole number a charmingly rough edge. The adults cast had plenty of song-and-dance experts. Their precision was more impressive and less soulful. As the frowning father, Chris Diamantopoulos was a little too obviously a handsome fit fortysomething dude playacting suburban desperation. I preferred Maya Rudolph as Ralphie's mom.
Robert Lloyd, LA Times: As Ralphie, Andy Walken was a good visual match for the movie's Peter Billingsley, and he seemed to have studied Billingsley's readings. It was not an original interpretation, as Olivier's Hamlet was distinct from Burton's, but originality was not really called for, and Walken's was an assured performance with the right touch of madness and wonderful vocal command. The whole company of kids, in fact, was energetic and on their marks, and possibly inspirational to children in the audience who may now be nursing Broadway dreams of their own.
Sonia Saraiya, Variety: For viewers who love the original film, the musical didn't look much like it. The film has an intimate quality, but the musical was a big, loud, constantly moving production. And in place of adult Ralphie as onscreen narrator, the musical placed him onstage -a ghost unseen by his younger self or the rest of his family. The effect was that adult Ralphie (Matthew Broderick) was stalking or even haunting The Family of his youth, while shamelessly gossiping about them to the audience at home. It's creepy, and the device never quite resolved itself as the musical wears on.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: The meat is in the atmospherics, and in removing the fun, along with any suggestion of perspective, A Christmas Story is a bust. Dad is an obscenity-spewing blowhard who gets off on the female leg lamp he won in a crossword contest. His transition to loving father in the last seconds of the show was tough to swallow. A beloved scene in which a boy ends up with his tongue frozen to a lamp-post is as unappealing as this description of it. Where's Harvey Fierstein when you need him?
Hank Stuever, The Washington Post: The "Live" version was at times impressively and hyperactively staged: always in motion, with the cast breathlessly but heroically keeping up with cameras on wheels. Matthew Broderick starred as the adult Ralph Parker, narrating the story and moving through the sets unseen by the other characters - he's in the living room, he's in the kitchen, he's on the recess playground (creepy!), and he sees you when you're sleeping. It made for an awkward start, but by about 15 or 20 minutes in, a viewer was grateful for his presence, as he seemed to be the only force for forward momentum.
Andy Swift, TV Line: Powerhouse performances from Broadway and TV veterans like Jane Krakowski, Maya Rudolph, Chris Diamantopoulos, Ana Gasteyer and Matthew Broderick bolstered the three-hour event, which also introduced the world to newcomer Andy Walken, who put on a considerably better show than that other Walken did on NBC a few years back.
Caroline Siede, AV Club: If A Christmas Story Live! had been half as long, it would've sailed by on Christmas charm. But at three hours, it kind of felt like the Christmas parable that would never end. Though the music is written by Broadway's golden team of Benj Pasek & Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen), the score never really rises above feeling like a passably generic theme park musical. Still, anything that lets Jane Krakowski sing and dance in sequins and character shoes on network TV is alright in my book.
Photo Credit: Jordin Althaus | FOX