Guest review – White Christmas (the West End musical) vs White Christmas (the movie) – Dominion Theater

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Good friends and good shows … it’s a combination impossible for me to resist at Christmas. So when one of my best friends invited me to see White Christmas at the Dominion Theater, I immediately said yes. Afterwards, we got into a lively discussion about how this production compared to the movie we both love. With a little encouragement, I was able to convince her to take her extensive knowledge of the movie and really go through the changes between the original and the stage production … for the benefit of the other White Christmas fans out there who want to know whether or not they should go. So without further ado … Aahhhamy!

To say I’m a fan of White Christmas the film would be an understatement. I grew up watching this film at least once every Christmas for as long as I can remember. It is one of my mom’s favorite Christmas films and one that I grew to love as a favorite as well. It is a film I can happily watch start to end and then watch all over again. I wanted to dance like Judy, sing like Betty, crack jokes like Phil, and listen to Bob croon all day.

Now enter White Christmas the Musical playing here in London to which when I saw the posters on the tube advertising the coming show my heart did a little skipped beat and I had to go see it.

Now I know that when a film is adapted to stage, you expect there to be some plot changes in order to make the production better suited to the stage. I also know that Crosby & Clooney’s shoes are not easy ones to fill when it comes to song. I was gauging my expectations as the stage show wasn’t going to be the film that I loved but I hoped it would at least be a respectable tribute to my beloved classic.

To overview, there were bits I loved, bits I hated, and bits I understood why they changed, and while it was a fun experience overall, it was definitely not as good as version as the film I love.

The most obvious change would be the swap of several of the numbers from the film for other Berlin songs. In absence were “I’d Rather See a Minstral Show”, “Mister Bones”, “Mandy”, and “Choreography” which were replaced with “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy”, “I Love a Piano”, “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” but with only a couple done as performance numbers. “Gee I Wish I was Back in the Army” made a brief appearance for a whole bar at the start and that was the entire nod it got. A few other Berlin numbers made it into the show as well to be remixed with existing numbers from the film, particularly “How Deep Is the Ocean” sung with “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” which felt a bit wrong to me.

My biggest pain point was the change in dynamics of the relationships between the four main characters as none of the relationships seemed to muster a believable dynamic. Bob & Phil felt more like colleagues than the close friends they were in the film. Betty & Judy were a very defined older and younger sister in the film but on the stage it just felt like they were just BFFs. When paired off, Bob & Betty felt a bit forced and lacking. Though perhaps that was because their relationship in the stage show took back seat to that of Phil & Judy who seemed to always be on stage together whereas in the film the whole driver behind their getting together was as a sham to get Bob & Betty together before it turned into a real one.

While looking at the characters, there were some changes to the characterization of the supporting characters from the film to stage. The stage version General was fun and while not quite the stoic version of the film, I didn’t mind the slight deviation. Emma the housekeeper / receptionist for the Inn was a bit more lively and pronounced for the stage show than she was in the film. While I preferred the more comic relief role she played in the film, the stage show interpretation was quite fun, though she overpowered pretty much everyone else on stage in performance. Susan, the General’s granddaughter, they aged down from 16 in the film to about 10 in the stage show, probably figuring it was easier to work in numbers for a cute kid than a teenager.

The stage production also added several additional characters, which to me seemed pretty unnecessary additions. There was Ezekiel the stagehand with his simple “ah, yep” that came across more Canadian than New England and really didn’t do much for the story. The overly manic stage manager was mostly annoying and really didn’t do much for the story. Same opinion holds for the costumer who just seemed to be present with the occasional line or two. Sheldrake the booker for the Ed Sullivan show seemed to be the only character addition who actually seemed to help the plot along.

In additional to the character and plot changes, my other beef with the show as the costuming choices. Could they have made the two girls look dowdier? Could they have picked less appealing dresses for the final number? Nearly every time a character came on stage I wanted to cringe at what they were wearing. I can see not replicating the film costume for costume, but still at least pick something that is appealing and period appropriate. Part of what I love about the film is the classic Hollywood glamour from the 50’s with the costumes and the stage show just seemed to really fall flat on that front.

To summarize, it was definitely not the film I love. There were bits of it still there but at lot of it changed. And while I was expecting some change, there was a lot more than seemed necessary. I enjoyed the show for what it was and had fun seeing it. But now having seen the stage show once, I probably wouldn’t go again and I’d rather just watch the film for the 100th some time. But if you’re still angling to see the stage show and you know and love the film as much as I do; I would strongly recommend going in with dialed down expectations. And maybe have the film ready in the DVD player to watch when you get home.

…. And that’s, I think, an even better summary of the show than I could have ever managed. If you are just looking for a safe show to take Grandma to the theater to see, then this will probably fit the bill: but if you want your heart to swell with joy, well, that’s what DVDs are for. And if you just want an excellent musical, I hear Assassins might be transferring.

(This review is for the matinee performance that took place on Saturday, December 6, 2014. It is booking through January 3rd.)

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