"Irving Berlin's White Christmas," a holiday musical that premiered in 2004, breaks about as much ground in the theater vanguard as another McDonald's does in the culinary canon. Adapted from the 1954 film of the same name, you've seen this show before, even if you haven't seen this show before. Its tropes are trotted out with unabashed familiarity: Opposites attracting, characters driven apart by a linguistic misunderstanding, jokes you can see coming from the next zip code, songs (by Berlin) that stall the plot rather than propel it forward, snowflakes and mistletoe for all. When "The Drowsy Chaperone" lovingly satirized old musical-theater chestnuts, its creators were no doubt thinking of pieces like this one.
The musical marks the second show in the Wick Theatre's inaugural season, and it's played with plenty of care and corn, with clear-eyed reverence for its old-fashioned optimism, and lacking any pretense of cynicism or subversion. James Cichewicz and Cannon Starnes play Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, soldiers in World War II turned nightclub entertainers who produce for "The Ed Sullivan Show." Seeking a sister act for an upcoming gig, they wind up following a pair of talented, beautiful and conveniently single sisters (Kelly Shook and Julie Kleiner) to Vermont, where they pair on, pair off, and pair on again while staging a blockbuster show intended to save a failing inn that just happens to be operated by their former general (Alan Gerstel), a kind-hearted, crusty fellow who misses his Army job.
It comes off as ludicrous as it sounds, but it doesn't matter, I suppose, as long as the end result is entertaining. Like the Wick's first production, "The Sound of Music," that result is a mixed bag. There is major room for improvement in the choreography, which, for the first act, is unimaginatively arranged and pedestrianly danced; a performance we're supposed to accept as "Ed Sullivan"-worthy feels instead like an early rehearsal. The singing is almost uniformly excellent, especially from Cichewicz and Shook, and their contributions make it easier to overlook the mediocre dancing, which finally picks up in the second act with an inspired tap number set to "I Love a Piano." Tom Hansen's scenic design is also a knockout, though it's initially an unassuming one, with the flimsy signage of the opening scenes giving way to detailed dressing rooms, train cars, nightclubs and the beautiful interior of the Vermont inn and its accompanying barn stage. The scenic design is a veritable stocking stuffed with pleasant surprises. Other strengths are to be expected from the Wick, namely the costumes. The ladies' flowing gowns glitter like the decor, the men look dapper in pinstriped suits, and Gerstel's general appears convincing in his military raiment.
Still, while this "White Christmas" is marvelously designed, it remains a disposable night at the theater. I can't say I laughed once, though the show provides plenty of opportunities to do so. When Bob and Phil, feeling their sister act has left the company, attempt to recreate one of the gals' ultra-feminine songs, the moment is intended to be hilarious, but in the audience at the Wick, not a creature was stirring. The silence was deadly and carried over to much of the yuks. Possible cures are mostly cosmetic: Perhaps director Stacey Stephens could have dialed down the ear-piercing obnoxiousness of the vapid showgirls Rita and Rhoda (Lindsay Bell and Lauren Bell), whose daffy antics never connect. But I doubt it would help resuscitate such musty material. This show's squareness is insurmountable.
"White Christmas" runs through Dec. 25 at the Wick, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Tickets start at $58. Call 561/995-2333 or visit thewick.org.