The yuletide film–turned–Broadway musical will be regifted again, this time as a Fox event (Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.). Set in the 1940s, A Christmas Story Live! follows young Ralphie Parker’s very eventful holiday. The Fox event features the music of Oscar-winning songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (Dear Evan Hansen). EW triple-dog-dared stars Matthew Broderick (the narrator) and Maya Rudolph (Ralphie’s mom) to reveal how they breathed new life into a classic.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Thanks to annual 24-hour marathons, A Christmas Story has quite the cult following. Did you draw on the original cast for inspiration?
Maya Rudolph: We both got to meet Peter Billingsley [the original Ralphie] the other day. That was pretty mind-blowing.
Matthew Broderick: It was nice to watch him interact with our Ralphie. There was something cool about seeing the two of them together.
Rudolph: I fell into the movie on my own. It was never a household Christmas tradition or anything, but I felt like I discovered it enough on my own that it felt a bit darker and more my sense of humor. I love Melinda Dillon [as the mother] in the movie so much. I didn’t expect to ever play her part in the musical, but she really shines for me in that movie. She’s just wonderfully warm and a little bit her own odd, quirky mother that’s not a normal mother but is a normal mother.
Broderick: I was a little old for it — it wasn’t a family thing for me to watch that movie, but I definitely knew it and loved it. And I knew some of [author] Jean Shepherd’s [adaptations] from before that. On PBS there were a couple, and my father [actor James Broderick] played the “old man.” So I knew those really well, and I always loved them, and I met Jean Shepherd when I was young.
Rudolph: That’s a pretty amazing coincidence.
Broderick: Yeah, it’s weird. It’s one of those Christmas stories that’s sentimental and all that, but also shows some of the less perfect parts of Christmas, which is a big release to see dramatized because you don’t always see it in the movies.
Rudolph: Especially in that time. Everyone’s so vocal about the dark underbelly of things now, but it wasn’t as commonplace to point that out.
Will fans spot a lot of references to the film? And will there be any 2017 updates?
Rudolph: There’s the famous nods, of course, to the original. All the stuff you remember from the movie that’s really important and iconic is there. It’s a really beautiful version of it — sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life.
Broderick: It’s about a boy who wants a BB gun, which is awkward nowadays, but it’s also charming because it reminds you of how different things were. Just simpler.
Rudolph: It is speaking about a very specific time and the larger picture of it is that kids lose sleep over [presents] at Christmastime, and that slowly goes away for us over time but in childhood is alive and well. For some it was a BB gun. I remember really desiring, not in the same frothy manner, but I really wanted a pair of Mork’s suspenders from Mork and Mindy for Christmas. I remember when I got them, I just exploded with joy and tears. It was just such a dream come true. It was like a miracle. I asked for something and a miracle happened.
Broderick: An odder one that I did really want but I was quite young, and it didn’t even exist so I didn’t get it, but I wanted Spock ears. You know from Star Trek? I wanted those ears that I could snap over my ears. I thought these existed.
Rudolph: I love that you created your own gift.
Broderick: Yeah but it was hard for everybody to explain to me that nobody could find them…That wanting, that’s the thing that goes away, and it’s kind of sad. It’s definitely a comedy, but there’s something poignant about the way you never really get that back again.
Rudolph: It’s beautiful because the element of being a parent is there too in the story and so, as parents we experience Christmas from a completely different perspective. I definitely felt like it was the more adult version of Christmas when I saw the original movie. I was like, “Oh wait there’s parents involved in this too. It’s not just about my Christmas list, you know?”
Maya, you did live television for eight years on Saturday Night Live, and Matthew, you’re a Tony-winning Broadway vet. Have you found these particular skills useful?
Broderick: She was quite confident when we first started. She said the live thing doesn’t worry her.
Rudolph: I probably should change my answer now because wasn’t that, like, day one?
Broderick: If it was a musical on Broadway, we would have weeks and weeks of previews, so it would all feel very easy. But with this format, your first performance has to be the good one. We don’t get to ease into it.
Rudolph: But honestly, I know my live performances go a lot better, so it’s probably going to be a better version of what I normally do. I think live actually gives me more adrenaline and energy, but I don’t pretend to know this process. I thought, “I’ve never done a musical before. Won’t this be great?” I’ve always had real big, high aspirations to do Broadway. I had no idea what I was stepping into. It’s truly another animal.
Broderick: When you do a musical number, are you more nervous when you have to sing than when you have to act?
Rudolph: Yes, very much so. It makes me nervous. In all the things that I’ve ever had to do in front of an audience, it’s singing that scares me the most. It’s a very vulnerable part of myself. I just feel completely naked singing.
Broderick: See, I’m asking because I’m that way.
Rudolph: It’s different because this is a musical, but it’s TV, but it’s like making a movie, but it’s live. It’s like a different genre, it’s sort of like wine blend.
Broderick: I’m very frightened of introducing and narrating the wrong scene. That could definitely happen.
Rudolph: That’s why people are tuning in, right?
Broderick: Yeah, it’s kind of like a traffic accident.
Rudolph: They want to rubberneck our live musical.
In the original film, the narrator, voiced by author Jean Shepherd, is merely voice-over, but in the musical version, we see him live onstage. What is that like?
Broderick: I’m present, but I don’t talk to anybody. They don’t know I’m there, so I don’t actually get to act with anybody. I’m describing what they’re doing, so I am paying attention to them but nobody talks to me. And I watch everybody rehearse basically.
Rudolph: He’s sort of like the voice from beyond come to life. But what’s nice about it is, we get to see your face and so it’s a delightful connection to the narrator because it actually is delivered through those interesting, charming, personable characters that the voice from beyond from the original movie doesn’t [have]. I mean it has it’s own flavor, but it’s nice that we’re actually seeing all these words being spoken at us.
Broderick: I can actually describe what I’ve just seen, which is kind of nice, rather than being off in a room. … It’s such a big tool in the original movie in that it sets the tone of being a subversive take on Christmas.
What are you most excited for audiences to see when it airs?
Broderick: All I want to do is somehow remember some version of everything I have to say, and then I’ll be very happy. I am excited to watch everything come together because it’s so broken up. I’m in it but I also am not, so I’m watching everybody and it’s kind of thrilling to watch them all gradually bring their numbers in.
Rudolph: When we had our run-through the other day, we got to see all the kids’ numbers. I was really blown away, and they’re really exciting. I felt a genuine ear to ear grin on my face watching them. They’re fun, it feels Christmasy and fun in the best possible way.
Broderick: Not to be cliché, but it was kind of nice to see people who aren’t bitter and haven’t done anything a million times…Maya was working on a number yesterday that was so beautiful, “What a Mother Does,” and it’s perfect. It was just lovely. Everybody was incredibly happy. I’ve never seen Marc Platt [producer of the broadcast] smile that hard.
Rudolph: Once all the things are pulled off, that’s going to be the major, “Oh my god, I can’t believe we just did that!” experience. That’s the goal we’re all going towards. Yes, it’s going to be a lot. It’s all complicated. But when it is pulled off, it’s so exciting.
What would you make of Bridemaids and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off being turned into live musicals?
Rudolph: I’d be excited for the “Bueller, Bueller, Bueller” song.
Broderick: It’s all one note. I’m getting ideas just as we’re speaking — this is great.
Rudolph: I’m sure they’ll make Bridesmaids at a certain point, but I don’t know how the diarrhea scene is going to play.
A Christmas Story Live! airs Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. ET on Fox.