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White Christmas

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One of the brilliant aspects of movie musicals is just how removed from reality they are É especially as it regards the actuality of theater musicals. Which is to say that movie musicals about stage musicals seem to be written by people who've never actually staged a stage musical. Performers flawlessly perform numbers they've never rehearsed; costumes and sets appear magically and stages expand and contract based simply on the needs of the number.

This condition reached its apotheosis in 1954 with There's No Business Like Show Business in which Ethel (Leather Lungs) Merman and company put on several shows utterly unencumbered by reality. It is, in a word, fabulous. The movie White Christmas exists on a similar, albeit more limited, plane. On paper, it's about a pair of World War II vets who become a song-and-dance team, meet a female song-and-dance team É and then proceed to sing and dance. But from start to finish, the whole thing is as fake and glorious as you could hope for.

So the Pittsburgh CLO production of White Christmas is interesting in that it's a stage version of a movie version of a stage musical. Unfortunately, that's about the only interesting thing about it.

The main problem is that book writers David Ives and Paul Blake try sticking substance and reason inside an extravagantly nonsensical plot, losing both logic and entertainment in the effort.

Look -- it makes no sense, in the movie, for Betty to doubt Bob and run to New York. Ives and Blake substitute their version É and it's just as dumb. That change is pointless, but most are merely mystifying: Names are altered on a whim; songs are cut and replaced with numbers from other Irving Berlin shows; characters are given Byzantine, and needless, back stories.

Since I don't believe the highest aspiration of theater should be the recreation of film onstage, I wouldn't mind these changes if they made for a better night's entertainment É but none of them do. The film may not have logic or heft, but it does have -- in fact is famous for -- buckets of charm. The creators of this version are so busy making alterations for their own sake they trample the film's charm while supplying nothing in its place.

As with any CLO show seen on opening night (the way I saw this one) there was a host of technical mishaps. None of them stopped the determination of this mostly pleasing cast -- especially Ian Knauer as Phil and Alix Korey as the rechristened housekeeper Martha. But all in all, I think the DVD would make a better holiday gift.

White Christmas continues at the Benedum Center, Downtown through July 15. 412/456-6666.

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