“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Orpheum Theatre: Reheated leftovers


In the spirit of holiday integrity, I try to disavow all Christmas frenzy before Thanksgiving. In a serious breach of my self discipline, I saw White Christmas in time to tell my family gathered Thanksgiving not to see it. In search for a metaphor, I compare White Christmas to reheated turkey: the glamor is gone and now you lovelessly consume it.

White Christmas is a spectacle. The singing and dancing was delightful, so long as that is all you want, you’ll be fine. There was a diversity and proficiency of dance: tap, ballroom, even a hint of mambo. The skill of the performers in singing and dancing is among the show’s impressive features. Plot and writing is where this show faltered, which is a fatal flaw for me but that may not be for everyone.

The story takes several turns with it’s hokeyness, which is not all that unexpected for anything Christmas themed. It’s fine in appropriate doses, but the conversion from film to stage often messes up those doses. Minor characters are given more time onstage. Suddenly, half-length numbers become full length numbers and full length numbers begin to feel as they are lasting forever. Much needed exposition is sacrificed for longer numbers later. A sure way to freeze over my critic’s heart is to have long numbers that are poorly established within the story.

I haven’t seen the film, so I have no idea what the source material left to be adapted, but I wasn’t impressed. Many of the jokes were vaguely sexist, and plenty more were plainly sexist. The central conflict of the show was caused by the the hackneyed old-maid gossip stereotype of the concierge character, Ms. Watson. The female characters consistently act ‘boy crazy’, which is far more entertaining to say than it is to watch. “But Max,” you may say, “That’s the period of this show and the source material! It’s not as if we were living in a gender-progressive society in the 50s!” All of which is true. I just don’t think that makes it okay. The stage adaption was made in 2004. It was not made as a film in the 50s, and a cursory wikipedia search indicates that the writers took other liberties in adapting the musical, in plot and otherwise. This might be a fault of my expectations, but it wouldn’t hurt to make the motivations of the female characters slightly more complex than “want man.” or “want attention.” At least make it a full sentence or add a because or something, which is the standard of motivations in this show. The men seem to have the motivation to altruistically try to save their former general’s inn, and the women are just along for the ride.

I know I’m stomping on a holiday classic here, but I can’t even say that the music is all that good. I’m used to the cliches, and repetition, but White Christmas found a new fault in show tunes: Pedanticism. The guilty lyric goes “Count your blessings instead of sheep, and you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings.” That wouldn’t be all that noticeable if it weren’t the go to reference within the show.

I don’t recommend White Christmas in any capacity. If you are looking for something Christmas themed with historical sensibilities, I would recommend Cantus in The Christmas Truce of 1914. It’s greater than or equal to in all facets of White Christmas except for dancing, and with the added virtue of Cantus being a Minneapolis-based group. White Christmas is poor in plot, or at least how it handles it, and rich in one-dimensional female characters that were somehow acceptable back then. So don’t fuss over the reheated broadway bundle. The leftovers can wait.