It is the holiday season and thus the fare has changed. Many theaters repeat old favorites to ring in the festive mood. Besides the obvious suspects, there are newer offerings. For the past five years, San Diego Musical Theatre presented Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. This year, they're also offering a nicely done musical version of the popular movie. It’s a radio play and a musical. In other words, you could be listening to the radio at home and still follow the trajectory. But you get to watch the making of the event with sound effects that are a delight to see.
The production has snappy deliveries and fast-paced music — there is no time to get bored. Like the radio plays of yesteryear, sponsors from the 1940s, when the piece is set, peddle their wares. These include Tupperware, the Macy’s parade, and companies from post-war America.
San Diego Musical Theatre’s scenic design combines a cityscape with the interior space of an office. The lighting moves from day to night, and the costumes are a testament to the times, putting us squarely in the thrust of America’s post-war hyper-materialism.
But the story takes us in another direction. By virtue of enthusiastic performances, we are transported into an almost magical world. And the voices delight; it is easy to get carried away by the music alone. But in order to get the most out of this production, as with the original 1947 movie, it’s a good idea to suspend belief.
When a drunk man plays Santa in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, an irate Kris Kringle takes his place and eventually works for Macy’s as a Santa. Instead of urging tots to buy the store’s products, he tells them where to find the best deals in town.
The story comes to the fore in the second act. By way of a legal case against Santa, the concepts of faith and hope are contrasted against common sense and realism: idealistic beliefs and weighty practicality vie in a Santa-tale setting.
Is the production worth seeing? If you like Christmas stories during the holiday season, this is a good bet compared to repetitions around town. The music and costumes are well done. And you might leave with joy in your heart. But if you are looking for art to challenge your mind and preconceptions, this might not be your cup of eggnog.
Playing through December 23.