This stage version of the classic musical film has traveled the country continuously as a regional holiday-fare staple, but it only played a very brief limited engagement on Broadway. This suggests that it works best when the audience has fairly low standards, which tells you a lot about the show right there. Its Broadway incarnation also received rather scathing reviews and garnered the equivalent of ‘damned with faint praise’ at the Tonys that year, with only two nominations for ‘Best Choreography” and the ever-prestigious “Best Orchestrations” award. In this case I can’t say I blame them…I may be passionately opposed to snobbery, but that doesn’t mean I have no standards. This show was essentially a throwback to the notorious Seventies and Eighties trend of taking famous stage musicals and making perfunctory, lifelessly imitative on-stage reenactments of them.
To be fair, the original movie was already a jukebox musical composed mostly of pre-existing Irving Berlin songs, so the stage version’s decision to interpolate a few more (like “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”, used as the stage show’s finale) was a perfectly reasonable move. But the movie, for all its glorious qualities, still shows its age when transplanted to a Broadway stage. Like so many musicals of the ‘classic’ era, it featured an extremely contrived plot even by romantic comedy standards…stage musicals had grown out of this kind of forced plotting by 1952, but some film musicals were still relying on it. It also suffered from that perennial flaw of Jukebox Musicals—songs that have virtually nothing to do with what’s actually going on in the story. Even in the original movie, most of the songs that aren’t straight-up diagetic performance pieces have, at best, only a tenuous connection to the scenes they grow out of, and there’s not much the stage show can do to fix it.
But the biggest problem is that the White Christmas screenplay doesn’t really have characters so much as it has placeholder sketches that were filled in by the personalities of the legendary stars that played them. And while there have been some talented people like Brian D’Arcy James and Stephen Bogardus who have filled these roles in the more high-profile stage productions, modern Broadway performers are generally trained in portrayals, not in essentially playing themselves and lending their natural personalities to otherwise underwritten parts. The kind of performers these parts were written for just don’t exist anymore, at least not on Broadway, and while these Broadway semi-names do at least moderate justice to the score vocally, they simply don’t have the natural personality to make these fairly two-dimensional characters seem like fully rounded people.
And in any case, I can’t really come up with any conceivable reason to sit through this massively inferior glorified cosplay in an era when the original movie is only the click of a computer mouse away, especially since the price of the movie is merely a fraction of the price of even regional theater tickets. I don’t care who you cast in any given stage production, they’re not going to remotely compete with Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye or Vera-Ellen. That’s the danger of adapting an iconic movie so straightforwardly to the stage, especially one that was already a musical…you don’t necessarily have to improve on the original, but you do have to actually provide something the original didn’t have. 42nd Street, Thoroughly Modern Millie, and some of the more successful Disney musicals managed to at least meet that bare minimum, and so they succeeded, but this show just doesn’t. This isn’t the worst holiday fare Broadway saw around this time…compared to the stage versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas or Elf it seems positively respectable…but it’s redundant enough that I can’t really advise you to waste your time on it when the real thing is so much more easily available.