2017, TV

A Christmas Story Live! (2017, Scott Ellis, Alex Rudzinski)

Like many other people my age, I grew up with A Christmas Story. For as long as I can remember, I have watched it every few Christmases except for when, at one point, I watched it every Christmas. Unlike the vast majority of movies I loved as a child, my adult cynicism has not yet succumbed to finding this movie sentimental or trite or corny or childish. Given my feelings about this film, and my endless repeated viewings, I watched the live version of the musical with some trepidation.

Actually, I was unaware a musical had been made of the movie. It shouldn’t be surprising, as nearly everything has been turned into a musical now, but I was completely unaware that this had happened. Reading the wikipedia page for the musical gave me some reassurance, as it was apparently well reviewed.

The broadcast was delayed because of the NFL because, well, Murica.

The opening contemporary pop song that likely had nothing to do with the musical got everything off to a rough start. Not only did the song have nothing to do musically with the rest of the musical, but it reminded me that musical trends have passed me by and I no longer understand the music of today. It made me feel old and momentarily confused, not to mention angry.

Fortunately, the rest of the performance was, as far as I could tell, an attempt to recreate the feeling of the original movie via the musical, as far as I know. But it was an attempt. And it wasn’t a necessary one.

The trend we have with musicals based on existing properties is part of a greater trend in pop culture where everything is recycled, remade, occasionally reinvented. Money flows more often to people re-doing old ideas because the people who control the money see a built-in audience. And so ideas only occasionally get the same kind of funding and development that old ideas get. Though I would like to claim that all remakes and all re-imaginings are terrible, occasionally they work.

But the live broadcast of the musical of version of my childhood favourite Christmas movie did not work. I would have admired the ambition of such a live TV performance of a musical if the idea wasn’t transparently stolen from Scrooged. (I was kind of hoping it would turn into Scrooged at some point. A TV executive could wander into the broadcast and tell us about how he has a new understanding of Christmas. At least that would have been interesting.) It’s still a brave thing to do. I’m not sure this was the thing to do though.

Because, personally, I never thought A Christmas Story was lacking in much of anything. As a child, it encapsulated my feelings about Christmas, even if I was growing up decades later. As an adult, I have a great degree of fondness for how it captures those movies. (Also, my family has decided it is my favourite movie, and so I have lost of Christmas Story memorabilia.) This experience works for me. I never thought it was lacking in, say, songs.

I suspect that the desire to turn the movie into a musical came from the font of inspiration as everything like this does – the people who made it likely thought it was a good basis for musical. But I can’t say I found the songs particularly memorable and the only reason I can remember the most consistent refrain today is because they repeated it constantly.

But I’m not sure whether it’s the creators of the musical or the people behind the broadcast who are responsible for the really big problem with the production: it was interminable. A Christmas Story runs 94 minutes, including credits. This broadcast was somewhere over three hours long, starting sometime after its expected start time of 7PM EST and finishing sometime around 10:30PM. Some of this bloat comes from the musical numbers, as the original plot is pretty much the same as the movie. But the bloat also came from the dance numbers, which dragged the musical numbers on. I don’t know where the dancing came from but, as I said on Facebook last night, I was never watching A Christmas Story and musing about how it would be improved by a tap dance number. Finally, the bloat came from weird moments between the broadcast and the ads that told us about the production, as if we couldn’t have watched these behind-the-scenes clips online the next day.

At some level, I get this: you want to bring something you love alive for a whole new generation. But the way to do it is not by doubling its length with songs that aren’t particularly memorable and fantasy sequences that make the whole thing goofier than it already was.

I hope you didn’t waste your time like I did.

Some other stray thoughts:

  • Holy Liberal Propaganda Batman: Hollywood was definitely laying the inclusiveness on thick during this broadcast. To say it was ‘unsubtle’ is the understatement of the season. I feel like shoving your values down the viewers’ throats is not the best way of making your point.
  • Matthew Broderick was… not good. I don’t know why, but he flubbed at least 6 or 7 lines, whereas the rest of the cast barely made any mistakes. It was kind of painful to watch. I hope that it was just an off-night.
  • They replaced an older father and a younger mother with a slightly older mother and a younger father. Though I thought Rudolph was great, the vibe felt off for a movie where a crotchety older man is a major part of the family dynamic. I didn’t mind the rest of the stunt casting (a black Jewish person, etc.) but I had trouble with the Old Man.

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