Theatre Mirror Reviews "White Christmas"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2014 by Sheila Barth

"White Christmas"
A tuneful trip down memory lane

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Christmas is the ideal time for remembrance - for sentimental images, fantasizing about the way life used to be, before we shifted gears into this 21st century, supersonic era.

Some people will argue Irving Berlin’s musical, “White Christmas,” (with book by David Ives and Paul Blake) is dated, and its plot, typical of the 1950‘s extravagant song-and-dance movie and stage spectaculars, is naive and silly. However, it should be taken for what it is - a trip down Memory Lane that injects simplistic charm into today’s high-falutin,’ electronic-driven society.

Setting the mood before the show at the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre on opening night, stars James Clow, Trista Moldovan, Jeremy Benton and Kaitlyn Davidson, wore glittery Hollywood attire and arrived early in a rare silver 1940 Buick Limited Series Touring Limousine. They walked the red carpet, greeting fans and signing autographs, reminiscent of olden days’ resplendent premieres.

“White Christmas,” the 1954 movie and subsequent stage version, (based on original 1942 movie, “Holiday Inn),” incorporates songs from that earlier movie. In turn, this stage musical romp is based on the 1954 money-making movie, starring then-Hollywood icons, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, Rosemary Clooney, and Dean Jagger, and includes other classic Berlin favorites.

Some of the 1950’s vernacular escapes young theatergoers, and the first act is draggy at times, but multigenerational theatergoers enjoy the show’s rah-rah, patriotic post-World War II Americana theme. And Music Director Michael Horsley and Co. grandly deliver Berlin’s harmonious, rhythmic music, reflective of the Big Band Era’s glory.

Director-choreographer Randy Skinner’s sleek choreography, Ken Billington and Keith Caggiano’s magical sound, lighting and stage effects are crowd-pleasers, too.

Typical of early Hollywood musicals, the story line is predictably thin. Two World War II veterans-turned-famous performing duo, conservative Bob Wallace (James Clow) and skirt-chasing Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), meet sister performers, pragmatic Betty (Trista Moldovan) and flamboyant Judy Haynes (Kaitlyn Davidson), who also happen to be sisters of the guys’ former platoon mate, Frankie “Dogface” Haynes. To help the women’s career, Bob and Phil follow them to their next gig at a Vermont inn. They discover the inn’s owner is their former World War II Army general, Henry Waverly, who’s deeply in debt. They love the old general and feel indebted to him for saving their lives during battle overseas, so they devise a plan to save the inn by pulling off a really big show, (as then-TV icon Ed Sullivan would say). Unbeknownst to the general, who applied to re-enlist to earn money, Bob makes a public plea on the Ed Sullivan Show, inviting the entire platoon to come to the inn and support their effort. Meanwhile, romance is brewing between Phil and Judy, Bob and Betty, but a misunderstanding nearly ruins the pragmatic couple’s courtship. In the end, everyone makes nice, the show goes on, everyone has a glorious white christmas, and lives happily (and harmoniously) ever after. 

Clow and Moldovan’s lovely voices blend harmoniously in song, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” and soar in romantic blend, “Love, your Didn’t Do Right By Me”/“How Deep is the Ocean.”

Jeremy Benton exudes an infectious joie de vivre on stage, constantly smiling, whether he’s acting, singing, tapdancing or seemingly floating in interpretative jazz ballet numbers. He and Kaitlyn Davidson complement each other beautifully, garnering loud applause during their spiffy tap dance number, “I Love a Piano” and dreamy number, “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing”.

Strutting her stuff as a former veteran showgirl-turned Vermont inn concierge, Martha Watson’s supposed to belt out a bombastic Ethel Merman version of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy”.  Unfortunately, actress Pamela Myers became ill during last week’s opening performance and was rapidly replaced in the second act by an able stand-in. Veteran actor Conrad John Schuck is appropriately stuffy yet sentimental as General Waverly, and Elizabeth Crawford performed like a trooper as the general’s California, sunshiny, little granddaughter, Susie Waverly. Elizabeth alternates performances with 9-year-old Ava Dellapietra. Cliff Bemis portraying stereotypical Vermont resident Ezekiel Foster should provide comic relief, but is a caricature rather than character. 

The cast is complemented by a supremely talented ensemble of energetic singers and dancers, who deliver Skinner’s terrific, timeless choreography and overall direction with aplomb. Incidentally, Skinner received a Tony nomination for his efforts.

Besides successful writers David Ives and Paul Blake, this touring production also boasts  renowned set designer Anna Louizos, and costume designer Carrie Robbins, who created an attractive wardrobe of 1940‘s-1950’s military uniforms, Hollywood glamor, swishy crinolined dresses, sheath skirts, elegant gowns, and Vermont winter gear.  

And yes, folks, during “White Christmas’” stirring finale and curtain call pleaser, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” it really does snow, snow, snow - gloriously - on its Currier and Ives’ picture postcard set and the audience.

BOX INFO: Two-act Irving Berlin musical, book by David Ives and Paul Blake; presented by the Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre and MSG Entertainment through Dec. 28, Showtimes:Tuesday-Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Matinees, Saturdays, and Dec. 23,26, at 2 p.m.; Sundays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets:$35-$125. Visit the Box Office, www.citicenter.org, call 800-982-2787 or Ticketmaster. Groups of 10 or more, call 617-532-1116, or visit groups@citicenter.org.

"White Christmas" (till 28 December)
THE CITI PERFORMING ARTS CENTER & MSG ENTERTAINMENT
@ Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont Street, Street, BOSTON MA
1(617)532-1116

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