Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is merry and bright
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the stage musical ‘White Christmas’ is sure to make the season even more merry!
If you’ve been alive for the past 71 years, then you are certainly more than familiar with Irving Berlin’s most popular song, “White Christmas.” You may even be familiar with the Christmas movie perennial White Christmas, but you may not know that the song was first sung by Bing Crosby in the film Holiday Inn (of which White Christmas is a remake), for which it won the Best Original Song Academy Award. In fact, Crosby sang the song again in 1946’s Blue Skies before turning it into a bona fide classic as the title song of the 1954 film.
Those other films may languish only in the memories of real movie buffs, but White Christmas is sure to turn up on classic movie networks and your local channels during the holiday season. But what if you could see the movie brought to life on stage with even more songs from the Irving Berlin catalog? You no longer have to dream of that white Christmas, because there is an all-new stage musical currently touring the US until the end of December!
The stage version of White Christmas is based on the 1954 film and follows the plot of the movie to a point but adds a little bit of showbiz to the story to allow for more of Berlin’s songs to be incorporated. The show opens in 1944 with Army men Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (David Elder) entertaining the troops on Christmas Eve with a song and dance revue. General Henry Waverly (Joseph Costa) barks at them to knock it off, thanks them for what they’re doing, then muses about where they’ll all be in ten years.
Flash forward ten years to Davis and Wallace on The Ed Sullivan Show, and preparing to take their act to Florida for the holidays. They want to incorporate a sister act into the show, and one of their Army buddies just happens to have sisters in the biz, so the guys take in their show at a local nightclub. They love the act, but the girls are contracted to play an inn in Vermont for the holidays, so Phil switches their train tickets to the same train to Vermont without Bob’s knowledge but with his dismay as he and Betty (Trista Moldovan) haven’t exactly hit it off. Meanwhile, Phil and Judy are setting off sparks, and conspire to get Bob and Betty to at least tolerate each other.
As they arrive in an unseasonably balmy Vermont, all of the inn’s guests have checked out for colder climes, leaving the inn empty and facing bankruptcy. Turns out the inn is owned by General Waverly, so Bob and Phil decide to put on a big show with their dancers and Betty and Judy, while secretly inviting the General’s former platoon and their families to the inn. But who wants to spend Christmas in Vermont without snow? As you can guess by the show’s title, it will snow before the final curtain falls.
White Christmas is my favorite kind of Broadway-style musical, one with major set changes, flashy costumes, always grinning chorus dancers, beautiful lighting, and a lead cast that can sing and dance with the best of them as well as give charming and authentic performances. Clow has the more serious role as Bob, who is a little more uptight than Phil and is more concerned about their careers than he is about his personal life. Elder’s Phil is the happy-go-lucky one, a skirt chasing cad who finds he may have met his match in Judy (Meredith Patterson). The sisters pretty much mirror their male counterparts, with Betty on the verge of making it big on her own. All four of the leads are wonderful, but Clow and Moldovan get to bring more growth to their characters over the course of the show.
The show features many of Berlin’s songs from the movie White Christmas, as well as other nuggets from his catalog including “I Love a Piano,” “Blue Skies,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” The second act opens with “I Love a Piano” and it is truly a showstopping moment as Phil, Judy and the chorus tap dance their way through the song and into our hearts. Everyone earned the extended ovation they received from the opening night audience. I also have to give a shout out to our hometown girl Ruth Williamson, who played the General’s concierge. I recognized her voice from the movie “Die Mommie Die” (she did the singing for Charles Busch’s Angela Arden), and she gets a chance to shine on stage with her solo number “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
The scenic and set designs, by Kenneth Foy and Anna Louizos, are spectacular, ranging from two small dressing rooms to a crowded train car, to the lobby and barn of the inn, and a Manhattan nightclub complete with sparkling chandelier. It’s just amazing to see how quickly each set piece is changed from scene to scene, hidden from view by a curtain and suddenly revealed. Of course, the real star of the show is the snow, and by the time we get to the big production in the barn, it has started snowing as the barn doors are opened to reveal the falling flakes. It’s a wonderful effect, but that’s not the end. The curtain comes down, the set is quickly changed again to showcase the chorus dancing outdoors with snow falling over the entire stage … and into the first ten rows or so of the theater! It was such a magical experience that it brought tears of joy to my eyes especially as the audience, who are now playing the roles of the General’s former troops, are encouraged to join in on “White Christmas.”
White Christmas is a wonderful treat for the holidays that should appeal to all ages. It may be more old school Broadway musical than younger audience members are accustomed to today, but all of the talent on stage and behind the scenes should be more than enough to entertain and impress even the most Scrooge-like audience member. White Christmas is currently playing at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre through Sunday, December 8, then the show heads to Des Moines, December 10-15 and Dallas, December 17-29. Being a seasonal show, White Christmas has a shorter run than most touring productions, but here’s to the show becoming an annual event that brings holiday cheer to audiences across the country and the world!