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White Christmas

The Paper Mill Playhouse serves up a first-rate production of the beloved tuner. logo
Meredith Patterson, Tony Yazbeck, Beth Johnson Nicely
and Megan Kelley in White Christmas
(© T. Charles Erickson)
It has taken a surprisingly long time for White Christmas to finally arrive at New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse, but this crowd-pleasing production, helmed by director Marc Bruni and featuring the work of original choreographer Randy Skinner, proves to be well worth the wait.

Based upon the 1954 film of the same name, White Christmas focuses on Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (Tony Yazbeck), former army buddies turned musical theater stars who plan to rehearse their new revue in sunny Florida over the holidays.

Those plans, however, are diverted when they run across comely sisters Judy Haynes (Meredith Patterson) and Betty Haynes (Jill Paice), who are about to play a small Vermont inn owned by their old general, Henry Waverly (Edward James Hyland) and operated by former Broadway star Martha Watson (Lorna Luft).

While courting the sisters, Bob and Phil decide to stage their new show at the inn and urge their other military pals to visit the inn and fill it to capacity. While a few misunderstandings occur here and there, it all ends happily, the previously unsentimental Bob and Betty fall for each other and a snow machine engulfs the entire audience.

White Christmas features a treasure-trove of Irving Berlin classics, including the title song, "Let Yourself Go," "Sisters," "the Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Blue Skies," and "How Deep is the Ocean," and you'll be humming them when you leave (or when you enter).

Skinner has devised tap-heavy combinations that bring out a joyously old-fashioned song-and-dance spirit. "I Love a Piano," which opens act two, features Yazbeck and Patterson tap-dancing while sitting on a small white piano. And the finale "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" has a full line of dancers tap-dancing with their arms clocked and then spinning into elaborate Busby Berkeley-esque geometric formations.

The cast is first-rate, beginning with the dashing, broad-shouldered Clow, who makes a convincing transition from pessimist who looks spooked while trying to make small-talk to sincere lover; Yazbeck, who has an upbeat spirit, and Patterson, whose dancing abilities are first-rate, score nicely, while Paice stresses Judy's vulnerability and spark.

Hyland brings out the general's grumpiness and bewilderment as well as his avuncular sweet spot. As for Luft, she is simply terrific. Her strong belt turns the songs "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun" into genuine showstoppers. When asked by the adorable Andie Mechanic (who plays the general's very young granddaughter) where she learned to sing, Luft replies that "you're born with it." Ain't that the truth.

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