Irving Berlin's White Christmas
The stage adaptation of the 1954 film is merry and bright.
In a way, Berlin is the father of all jukebox musicals. For many of his films, including Holiday Inn, Blue Skies, Easter Parade, There's No Business Like Show Business, and, of course, the 1954 celluloid White Christmas, the outrageously prolific composer-lyricist would produce new tunes while also incorporating catalog oldies for additional marquee value. So it makes perfect sense that librettist David Ives and Paul Blake have futzed around with the original Norman Krasna-Norman Panama-Melvin Frank storyline just enough to allow the insertion of a few extra Berlin standards.
Following the film's plot, the show focuses on Army buddies Bob Wallace (Stephen Bogardus) and Phil Davis (Jeffry Denman), who have become huge Ed Sullivan-caliber stars nine years after World War II's end. Needing a sister act for an upcoming revue, the affable pals come upon Haynes siblings Betty and Judy (Kerry O'Malley and Meredith Patterson) at a local nightspot.
Through a twist too ditzy too explain, the now sort-of-paired-off couples arrive at an debt-ridden Vermont inn run by the fellows' former commander, General Henry Waverly (Charles Dean)-- and decide to help the fading officer with cliché-dialogue-familiar "Let's put on a show in the barn" enthusiasm. The incipient Bob-Betty romance is threatened through misunderstandings fostered by inn receptionist (and former Broadway star) Martha Watson (Susan Mansur) when she utters the complication-inducing words, "I shouldn't tell you this." Guess what: all's right in the end.
But, hey, the play -- facilitated with comforting ease by director Walter Bobbie -- isn't the thing here. Berlin's genius is; and anyone who wants to maintain that the title number is the best popular song ever written will prompt no argument from me. The many gold-plated ditties get the absolute right bold and brash treatment from choreographer Randy Skinner, the current go-to guy for tap routines. What he does with the second-act opener, "I Love a Piano," danced splendidly by Denman, Patterson and troupe, makes his preeminence abundantly clear.
Abetted by set designer Anna Louizos and costume designer Carrie Robbins, Skiner also fills the stage with color on a lavish "Blue Skies," fronted by Bogardus in a Bing Crosby-inspired fedora. He gives Mansur and the men top hats and canes for "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," and they sell the song as if it's the latest model Blackberry. O'Malley and Patterson wave huge blue-feather fans through "Sisters," which Bogardus and Denman, wielding the same fans, get to reprise cutely later on.
While no weatherman can truly promise a white Christmas, this show does deliver its promise of a merry and bright one to audiences.