Meredith Patterson, Jeffry Denman, and the cast of Irving Berlins White Christmas.
By Scott Harrah
Irving Berlins White Christmas is pure holiday fluff. This deeply flawed but entertaining adaptation of the classic 1954 movie (which starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney) was a regional hit in San Francisco, St. Paul and Boston in previous years before coming to Broadway. Most of the cast and Randy Skinners choreography are serviceable, and the best things about the show are the glorious sets by Tony nominee Anna Louizos (In the Heights and Avenue Q), Tony nominee Carrie Robbins festive costumes, and Irving Berlins sublime songs.
In these times of economic crisis, Irving Berlins White Christmas offers wonderful escapism. Unfortunately, the show is more like a jukebox musical showcase for Irving Berlins songs than a true adaptation of the movie. Then again, wasnt the movie made to cash in on the popularity of Bing Crosbys titular mega-hit White Christmas? Berlin classics like Blue Skies and I Love a Piano are hardly Christmas carols and are thrown in for no apparent reason other than the fact that they are well known and pad out the story with color and panache. However, they are so elaborate and splashy, one quickly forgets they have nothing to do with Christmas.
Those who have seen the movie already know the story: two old Army friends, Bob Wallace (Stephen Bogardus) and Phil Davis (Jeffry Denman), have become song-and-dance men after World War II. The guys pull together a sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes (Kerry OMalley and Meredith Patterson) and gear up for a gig at a Vermont inn run by their former Army boss, General Henry Waverly (Charles Dean). Standouts include the spunky, quick-witted Susan Mansur as the inns receptionist, Martha Watson, and Kerry OMalley as Betty. OMalley is first-rate when singing the torchy solo ballad Love, You Didnt Do Me Right, decked out in an elegant gown while singing in a posh Manhattan nightclub. Its the type of nostalgic glamour we rarely see on Broadway anymore, and the high point of the evening. Unfortunately, theres little onstage chemistry between Betty and her love interest, Bob, but it doesnt seem to matter.
The show features lots of corny jokes and silly plot twists, but Irving Berlins White Christmas is primarily a showcase for lavish production numbers, tap dancing, and endless costumes. The closing number, Ive Got Love To Keep Me Warm, is performed by the female cast all decked out in mock-Victorian costumes, with the men sporting 1950s-style Christmas sweaters, and surrounded by a snowy set that makes the whole ending look like one of those Currier and Ives plates depicting New England yuletide scenes that your mother probably set out every December next to the cherished family heirloom Nativity set. Yet White Christmas isnt strictly for gentiles. Theres a nice added touch for Jewish theatergoers, tooa brief, cute rendition of the Chanukah standard The Dreidel Song in act one.
The shows most famous songother than White Christmas, Snow, and Happy Holidaysis the gleefully camp Sisters. Just like in the movie, both the Haynes sisters and the two male lead characters, Bob and Phil, perform Sisters at different points in the show, complete with feathered fans that only a drag queen could truly appreciate.
Irving Berlins White Christmas could easily do without all the tacked-on songs and would be far more enjoyable as a one act instead of this drawn-out, embellished production that relies on too much filler material that wasnt in the movie. However, as lighthearted holiday fare, director Walter Bobbie and his team have put together a delightful diversion thats a sure crowd-pleaser for anyone looking for sugary-sweet, mindless seasonal entertainment.