This was supposed to be the big Christmas show of 2011, and while it didn’t exactly fail (and apparently made enough money that they’ve brought it back twice), no-one particularly liked it. Granted, given that its most immediate predecessor in the field was the bland stage version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, that its book was by the author of The Drowsy Chaperone, and that the last stage musical its production company had backed was Lestat, I suppose we shouldn’t have expected much of it.
The original film was actually kind of charming…it’s certainly the only Will Ferrell movie anyone still seems to like, and while his shtick-based comedy could get a little irritating at times, there’s enough effective humor and heart to make it watchable.
Speaking of decent movies by otherwise reviled film stars, the composer of The Wedding Singer musical returned to Broadway to write the score for this show, and his work here is much weaker. This score is decently tuneful, but it’s incredibly generic and vapid…it basically sounds like bad Christmas novelty music, which may be appropriate given that they sang “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” at the climax of the film, but probably isn’t the wisest way to turn it into a tolerable musical. Moreover, every number is almost unbearably perky and hyperactive…it’s like an entire score of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins, and it gets annoying very quickly.
But the bigger problem is that, while retaining the slapstick humor of the film, they fail to replicate the thing that made the film bearable—playing the sentimentality and ‘Christmas Spirit’ preaching with a wink. The stage show plays it completely straight, resulting in exactly the kind of cloying, saccharine annoyance the film somehow avoided being.
Seasonal Christmas fare on Broadway is never particularly good, and I’ll grant you that this is probably no worse than most of the field, but its stubborn refusal to go away has attracted some very strong contempt from the serious Broadway fans, and it has become something of a byword for the brand of Broadway that is little more than a glitzy tourist trap. But don’t judge modern Broadway by its Christmas extravaganzas; it’s like judging modern cinema by its summer blockbusters. It may be popular with a certain shallow crowd, but it doesn’t really represent the state of the actual art form, especially considering that it only appears on Broadway during the Christmas season…if they were under the impression that it could maintain an audience at any other time of the year, believe me, they would have tried.