What's that line about if you love something you should set it free?
There will be those who vehemently disagree with this particular assessment of this particular production of a particularly favorite holiday musical. But "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," which opened at Shea's on Tuesday night, is just not worth loving. Not the way it should be loved, anyway.
The 1954 movie musical is a favorite holiday film, with a long list of reasons. The song list, to start, carries the hefty torch of Mr. Berlin's rave-worthy canon – especially "Sisters," an after-dinner classic any time of year, and the title song, written for the musical "Holiday Inn," also starring Bing Crosby, that came 12 years prior.
So it's surprising how long it took for Broadway to come 'round its way. An adapted stage version opened there for a limited engagement in 2008, following productions in the United Kingdom. Stateside, national tours and Broadway revivals have popped up this time of year, surely for the yuletide warmth.
That's the most troubling part.
It's colder than ice. In the way your snow-covered car is technically warmer than the outdoors, but only after an hour's warm-up.
The production on stage is different from the movie, which is fine, especially considering it contains Berlin classics not in the film: "Happy Holidays," "I Love a Piano," "Let Me Sing and Be Happy," and a fully staged expansion of "Blue Skies," complete with Tommy Tune-like dream dancing.
These additions help round out the household names, but what about the hominess of the film, which elicits wide smiles and blanket-cozy holiday cheer?
It's just not there. Scenes fall flat in both their pacing and staging (someone didn't study their sightlines). The actors don't even appear to be enjoying themselves.
Stylistically, the show tries too hard to mimic the feelings produced by the film. It's one thing to pay homage to a classic, but it's another to re-create it. Book writers Paul Blake and David Ives, whose own subversive adult plays are the definition of this show's opposite, have placed their libretto on the back of the same snail that drove old Hollywood films. Then, screenplays and directors could take forever and a day to move things along because stories were simpler. And so were the audiences.
This adaptation could have made huge strides in rekindling a vibrant memory by taking it somewhere else. Adding a hint of sarcasm, self-knowing nods to its own wholesomeness, or outdatedness; something besides just re-creating it one more time.
There are some glimmering sparkles in this white haze, and they prove that the thing needs more of them.
The train car scene in which the Gap-dressed caravan sings to high heavens about "Snow," is a fantastic, tight scene, staged creatively.
Ruth Williamson, as inn receptionist Martha Watson, brings a much-needed earthiness to the necessary comedic-dame role.
For Christmas this year, the snow on the worn out VHS tape still is the whitest you'll ever enjoy.
> Theater Review
Irving Berlin's White Christmas the Musical
Review: 2 stars (Out of 4)