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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that A Christmas Story Live! is based on the Broadway musical that was in turn based on the classic 1983 movie about a young boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas. The setting is still 1940s Indiana small-town, but the cast has more diversity than in the movie, with characters of color in strong roles, and a subplot about a Jewish family joyously celebrating Hanukkah (and teaching Ralphie about latkes and menorahs). Viewers can also note that this production does update the notorious Chinese restaurant scene from the original. The show's female characters, however, are still stuck in the 1940s, with moms staying at home and complaining about shopping, cooking, and housework, while dads talk about the office. Women and girls (who look to be 10-12) are also given brief costumes for fantasy dance sequences when the boys wear "gangster" suits. Ralphie's classmates sing about him being a "wimp" when he won't fight his (much bigger) bully; they cheer when Ralphie finally pins the bully down and punches him repeatedly in the face. A scene in which a boy gets his tongue "stuck" after licking a pole may be upsetting to young viewers; parents may wish to stress that the boy's tongue isn't really stuck, a vacuum is sucking it in gently. "Smart ass" is repeated twice, and there is made-up cursing ("you goddingle dogs!") and a subplot about a curse word that we hear as "fudge" but Ralphie assures us was really the "f-space-space-space" word.
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What's the story?
Inspired by the 1983 movie and the stage production A Christmas Story: The Musical, A CHRISTMAS STORY LIVE! meets up with 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Andy Walken), an ordinary kid at Christmastime with one big wish: for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle BB gun. His mom (Maya Rudolph) and his teacher (Jane Krakowski) sympathize but tell him: "You'll shoot your eye out." Meanwhile, Ralphie is dealing with the school bully Scut Farkus (Sacha Carlson), his grumpy lamp-loving dad (Chris Diamantopoulos), and the packs of winter-clad singers who seem to follow him everywhere to comment on his life through song. Matthew Broderick pops up too -- literally, in many scenes, emerging from behind sets and doors as grown-up Ralphie, commenting on and narrating the story.
Is it any good?
At times this musical is lots of fun, it stars people you love, and it updates some of the cringier things from the original -- on the other hand, three hours is too long for anything. Even those who at first enjoy the jazzy, peppy numbers about Christmas and Christmas presents will be longing to shoot their own eyes out (sorry, show, you can't set us up like that) after two solid hours of five lines of dialogue followed by a nice long belter of a song. Not that there aren't goodies. As Old Man Parker, Chris Diamantopoulos dances away with any scene in which he's called upon to sing or move, and there's a particularly neat bit of stage business during his "Major Award" number in which he magically changes from vintage leisure dadwear to a tailored tux without a camera cutaway. National treasure Jane Krakowski slays, as always, during her scenes. And Matthew Broderick gets the show's best lines, cribbed from the book that inspired the 1983 movie, humorist Jean Shepherd's semi-fictional and brilliant In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.
The way that A Christmas Story Live! subverted the 1983 movie's Chinese restaurant was also masterful, with Old Man Parker quipping "That was not what I was expecting!" after a perfectly in-tune carol from a chorus of Asian waiters. Ken Jeong's restaurant owner replies, "What were you expecting?" Also: Ana Gasteyer can sing! But to be honest, many modern parents were also hoping the Parkers might not get Ralpie the gun, and they do, and he does immediately hurt himself with it, just like he does in the movie. If you love the movie, try this version on for tuneful holiday cheer but be warned: Three hours!
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about bullies in A Christmas Story Live! What makes people act like bullies? What makes people befriend bullies? How will the bully's life change after Ralphie fights him? Is it realistic for Ralphie's classmates to cheer for him after he fights Scut?
What other live versions of classic movies have appeared on TV in recent years? Why would it be interesting to remake a movie everyone's seen? What's the appeal of a live performance?
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