It may be a surprise that the Academy Award-winning song, “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin wasn’t originally written for the movie of the same title. The first public performance of the song was by Bing Crosby, on his NBC radio show The Kraft Music Hall on Christmas Day, 1941. As far as film, the song “White Christmas” first appeared in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn where it won the Academy Award for best song that year before being made as the centerpiece of the iconic 1954 holiday film, White Christmas starring Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace and Danny Kaye as Phil Davis.
Atlanta’s Theater of The Stars has produced a wonderful live stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas now playing at The Kennedy Center through January 6th.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is one of the more popular Christmas stories, even though there’s not much about Christmas in it except for the title song. The plot follows the movie version where Army buddies as well as popular entertainment team Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (David Elder) rehearse to put on a show at the Columbia Inn in picturesque Vermont with sisters Betty Haynes (Stefanie Morse) and Judy Haynes (Mara Davi). The Columbia Inn happens to be owned by the men’s former military general (Joseph Costa) who is too proud to ask for help to save his failing business which is behind in bills which he never sees thanks to Martha Watson (Ruth Williamson), his loyal assistant. Will a secret “million dollar proposition” save the inn or will it wind up failing and subsequently be thrown into the trash like so many fruitcakes?
…wonderful songs featuring great vocal harmonies and slick, jazzy dances that will put merry into your Christmas.
The concept behind producing Irving Berlin’s White Christmas as a full-length live musical was a good one. Basically, the live show version just added more songs by Irving Berlin like “Happy Holiday,” “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.” Songs from the movie like “Blue Skies” and “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” are lengthier, more upbeat and peppy, and more jazzy thanks to the terrific orchestrations by Larry Blank and Vocal and Dance Arrangements by Bruce Pomahac. The only musical arrangement that I felt was underwhelming was the title song, “White Christmas.” The song appears in the finale and seemed to fizzle out and leave the audience with a cold feeling as if there weren’t enough logs on the fire to keep them warm. It is a shame because I feel the show would have received a standing ovation if the audience would have been “wowed” with the finale.
The Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, featuring 18 live musicians, did a fabulous job at bringing the timeless songs by Irving Berlin to life. During this time of year, I feel it is important to acknowledge and thank everyone who makes live music possible at The Kennedy Center and at other theatres. It is imperative that live music continues to be a part of musical theatre and I encourage funding to continue for such a worthy cause.
Besides Irving Berlin’s music, the dances choreographed by Randy Skinner were lively and entertaining. Add to that talented dancers and eye-popping costumes by Carrie Robbins and you have a show perfect for the whole family. One aspect of this production that I really liked were the color choices. Whether it was the snow covered “White Christmas” logo backdrop with a pleasing sea blue background or the Christmas red tuxedos and dresses, the colors were pleasing to the eye.
It is important to note that James Clow as Bob Wallace and David Elder as Phil Davis don’t try to imitate the actors in the film. They do a fine job with acting, singing, and dancing. It wouldn’t be fair to compare them to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, but I do wish Clow and Elder had more carisma and a more memorable persona. As for the leading ladies, Stefanie Morse and Mara Davi as Betty and Judy Hayes were likable and did very well vocally as well. My favorite performance belonged to Ruth Williamson as Martha Watson. She made the role her own and surprised the audience with her star turn in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” But it was Susan Waverly (Andie Mechanic), General Waverly’s young granddaughter, who really made everyone smile from ear to ear when she took to the stage singing and dancing to “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was really enjoyable, but you won’t be walking out of the theatre singing “White Christmas,” you will be walking out singing one of the songs from one of the more memorable moments, like “Blue Skies.” Oh, and for the real movie buffs, the song “Choreography” isn’t in the show. What is in the show are wonderful songs featuring great vocal harmonies and slick, jazzy dances that will put merry into your Christmas.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays through January 6, 2012 at the Opera House of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.