Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is one of the most enduring holiday tunes ever written. It’s a classic. The same can’t be said for the 1954 film “White Christmas,” in spite of the presence of stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. The movie does benefit from a mostly stellar collection of Berlin songs, including “White Christmas.” Bing and Danny keep the goings breezy, and Clooney gives the squeaky-clean shine some sexiness.
The 8-year-old musical written by David Ives and Paul Blake, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, strays even further from the brilliance of the original song. Its story, about two WWII vets-turned-song and dance men, the sister act they romance and the ex-general to whom they pay tribute, is about the same as the film’s. Throw in a few Berlin numbers not in the movie (“How Deep is the Ocean “ “I Love A Piano,” to name two), a few new (and unnecessary) characters and you have “White Christmas Live!”
San Diego Musical Theatre is dishing it up for the holidays in North Park, and like folks after Christmas dinner, it’s overstuffed. The minor housekeeper and granddaughter parts from the movie have been transformed into too-visible characters: an Ethel Merman-wannabe (Karla Franko) and a precocious singing granddaughter from California. There’s also a laconic, grunting handyman – the less said about him the better.
Among the leads, ebullient Jill Townsend, recently seen in the Globe’s towering Allegiance, is the most engaging, as Haynes sister Judy. Laura Dickinson as sibling Betty renders a powerful “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and David Engel is dependable in the rather dull role Bing played in the film. Jeffrey Scott Parsons, as the other half of the song-and-dance duo, can be irritating, but then so was Danny Kaye.
The choreography at the SDMT, by Lisa Hopkins, is the high point of the production. In fact, the large ensemble of costumed dancers generates so much energy that the rest of the show seems to lag. You’re more than ready to sing along to the closing “White Christmas” – but then “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” gets tacked on for some reason. Yuletide excess. It’s a tradition.
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David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.