James Clow, Melissa Errico, Tony Yazbeck, and Mara Davi
in Irving Berlin's White Christmas
(© Joan Marcus)
James Clow, Melissa Errico, Tony Yazbeck, and Mara Davi
in Irving Berlin's White Christmas
(© Joan Marcus)
Irving Berlin's White Christmas has returned for another limited holiday engagement at Broadway's Marquis Theatre, but this time around, the production too often resembles a coal-filled stocking. It's a show that's no more than pleasant as it passes -- buoyed immeasurably by those great Berlin songs -- but it needs stronger performers than James Clow, Tony Yazbeck, Melissa Errico, and Mara Davi, who are now playing the leading roles, to make it sparkle.

The effect of the topliners' deficiencies is that the feeble humor of the libretto (jimmied by David Ives and Paul Blake from the Norman Panama-Norman Krasna-Melvin Frank script for Paramount's 1954 movie of the same title) is rudely exposed. The workman-like plot has song-and-dance men Bob Wallace (Clow) and Phil Davis (Yazbeck) repairing to a Vermont inn -- now being run by their World War II general (the appealing David Ogden Stiers) and former entertainer Martha Watson (a brash Ruth Williamson) -- in aid of the performing Haynes sisters (Errico and Davi). While many jokes are attempted, nary a genuine laugh is achieved.

The production's highpoint remains the second act's "I Love a Piano" opener, which is choreographed by Randy Skinner, who certainly knows how to maximize tap-dance routines. His skate-tap finale is equally imaginative.

Of the four stars, only Yazbeck has the spark to light any kind of Yuletide hearth-fire. Errico, as the more serious of the gal siblings, displays that wonderfully vibrant vocal quality she always uncorks, but the 1940's wig she wears is like a bottle-cap on her abundant talent. Meanwhile, Davi does standard smiling-blonde duty as the livelier Haynes sister. And although Clow brings a likable croon to a tune, he adds up to little more than a walking toothpaste ad.

Director Walter Bobbie doesn't do anything to lift the show's tone, so whether Bob and Betty or Phil and Judy overcome the ridiculous plot turns that threaten to part them becomes a true could-care-less proposition. Nevertheless, there are those wonderful Berlin songs, and it would take more than a mediocre production of White Christmas to make them anything less than constantly effervescent.