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, White Christmas, strays even further from the brilliance of the original song. Its story, about two WWII vets who become song-and-dance men, the sister act they romance and the exgeneral 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" and "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 one of the sisters, Judy Haynes. 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 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.
White Christmas runs through Dec. 23 at the Birch North Park Theatre. $42-$72. sdmt.org
An Unscripted Carol: Five actors think on their toes and create comedic theater on the spot in this improvisational holiday performance inspired by Dickens. Presented by North Coast Rep and Impro Theatre, it runs through Dec. 20 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Chicago: A Speakeasy Cabaret: A musical set in the 1920s about two murderous, fame-seeking women who wind up on death row. Ticket price includes light food and drink. Presented by Ion Theatre Company, it runs through Dec. 22 at Urbn Cntr 4the Arts (3708 Sixth Ave. in Hillcrest). iontheatre.com
The Littlest Angel: A boy dies and goes to Heaven, then sneaks back to Earth to retrieve a special box. One more performance, Dec. 22, at Avo Playhouse in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Persuasion: In a world-premiere adaptation of Jane Austen's novel, a woman struggles with the return of a man—once poor, now rich—whose marriage proposal she turned down years earlier. Through Dec. 22 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
A Taffeta Christmas: A successful 1950s girl group makes a triumphant return to their hometown in Indiana for a special concert. Through Dec. 23 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
The Ultimate Christmas Show (abridged): The Reduced Shakespeare Company cracks wise about all manner of holiday traditions. Through Dec. 23 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. reducedshakespeare.com
White Christmas: It's the 1954 movie, adapted for the stage and loaded with Irving Berlin tunes. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it runs through Dec. 23 at the Birch North Park Theatre. sdmt.org
Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas!: A mean ol' beast gets a lesson in kindness when he meets his match in Whoville. Through Dec. 29 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
A Christmas Carole: The live radio play version of the classic tale, adapted by Cygnet Theatre's Sean Murray, is an annual tradition. Through Dec. 30 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com
Christmas on My Mind: Stranded by a snowstorm in a cabin in the woods, some travelers pass the time with singing and storytelling. Through Dec. 30 at Lamb's Players Theatre. lambsplayers.org
Forever Plaid: Plaid Tidings: A holiday sequel to the oft-performed musical focused on a 1950s-style singing group that returns from the afterlife after being killed in a traffic accident. Through Dec. 30 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it's on hiatus through the holidays, running again from Jan. 10 through Feb. 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net