The 5th Avenue’s White Christmas

Glorious in every way, but we like shows to be about something.

Irving Berlin's holiday perennial is back at the 5th Avenue for the first time since 2006, so let's get the superlatives out of the way. Yes, folks, this is truly an amazing cast, singing and dancing at the top of their game. Each new set is a meticulously wrapped Christmas gift guaranteed to thrill and delight upon opening, and impeccable, colorful costumes abound. Likewise, the score is fruitcake-dense, chock-full of classic songs, and the orchestra will whisk you away on gossamer wings of Christmas nostalgia. The show is playing to packed and swooning houses, as you'd expect of a proven moneymaker based on the smash 1954 movie.All these accolades are absolutely true, as anyone who's ever seen this oft-revived extravaganza can attest. Trouble is, beneath the tinsel, there's no there there: no plot that has a genuine connection with Christmas, no reference to the Nativity, peace on Earth, good will toward men, or even a vague, generic nod to the reason for the season. It's a big, buoyant,vapidXmas card that, while set mostly in the 1950s, might just as well have been called Irving Berlin's Festivus for the Rest of Us. This frothy meringue has no actual pie underneath. Without the Messiah in the manger, all you have left of Christmas is happy talk and an endless slog to the mall.Or maybe that's just the grouchy talk of a recovering Catholic who considers himself more spiritual than religious. Perhaps the world prefers a Christmas story without the Christ.Michael Gruber and Greg McCormick Allen play a song-and-dance duo whose friendship was forged on the front lines of World War II. Ten years later, they're a hot showbiz commodity asregulars on The Ed Sullivan Show and headliners in an upcoming musical revue due to open in Miami. All they really need nowis a sister act.Unfortunately, the Haynes sisters (Christina Ashford and Taryn Darr) are already booked at a lodge in Vermont—run by the boys' former commander (Frank Corrado). The boys follow the girls north; smitten with their protégées, they soon learn that the general's civilian enterprise is near collapse due to a heat wave that's kept Vermont's ski country bereft of snow. What to do? Put on a show to save the inn!In a production this big, you can expect a steady stream of subplots (featuring the general's star-struck granddaughter, played by Lauren Carlos, and his innkeeper paramour—Carol Swarbrick, who can dialher inner Carol Burnett up to 11 on cue) and hit tunes galore. What you won't expect is a first act that runs moments shy of an hour and a half and an intermission that clocks in close to 20 minutes (because at that point, everyone has really, really got to visit the restroom).On the upside, you get plenty for your money: song and dance until you've had your fill; great ensemble showcases ("Snow," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm"); immortal showtunes ("Happy Holidays," "Blue Skies," and "White Christmas"); and solo showstoppers, including "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and "How Deep Is the Ocean."And it's all captured with snow-globe verisimilitudeby directors David Armstrong and James Rocco (also credited as choreographer), who keep this three-ring circus aloft just long enough to dazzle the eye, if not capture the heart. In terms of stagecraft, the 5th Avenue sets out the usual bountiful buffet of riches, without a misstep or misspent penny to be seen—from Anna Louizos' lavish sets to Tom Sturge's keen eye for lighting detail to Carrie Robbins' unerring combinations of color and period. James May presides over a crisp orchestra, and the hardworking cast attempts to knock each number out of the park.But I like for shows to be about something. As a romantic comedy, there's precious little romance in White Christmas, and the comedy is far too precious. If that makes me a curmudgeon, so be it. I'll take my two lumps of coal with coffee now, thanks.

 
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