BWW Reviews: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS Delivers Sweet Dreams
at Baltimore's Hippodrome Theater Through December 8, 2013
What kind of holiday do you want? Do you want a fat-free alt-rock caff-plus edgy postmodern holiday, or do you prefer a traditional cookies and cocoa cozy with both marshmallows and whipped cream type affair? Nowadays, beloved Christmas movies often include words like "Bad", "Lampoon" and "Nightmare". However, if your holiday favorites feature words like "Miracle", "Wonderful" and "Toyland" in their titles, WHITE CHRISTMAS is for you.
First, praise for the fabulous Hippodrome theater itself: every staff member and volunteer is cheerful, friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Nearby parking is available and reasonably priced. The interior of the historic theater is filled with Rococo details that will occupy your attention until the show starts should you happen to have left your cellphone in the car. Or even so. For this production, the proscenium arch is unobscured and the posh box seats are evident. A simple scrim bears the show's logo, with uncomplicated childish snowflakes projected upon it. The musicians in the pit begin to tune.
If you're familiar with Irving Berlin's 1954 film version of WHITE CHRISTMAS, the stage production will not surprise you. In fact, if you're a fan of films from the '40s and '50s, the show will not surprise you. It is warm-hearted, earnest and contains Hays Production Code-appropriate content. If you're looking for a sexed-up, modernized version of the show, keep looking. The plot twists are unsubtle, the ending unsurprising, the characters unremarkable, but it's a familiar formula. Comforting. The stage production contains elements of buddy movie and romantic comedy with a great deal of Hey, Kids, Let's Put On A Show! in the best Busby Berkeley tradition. More than this, I must not say, for if you already know, you know already, and if you don't, you'll guess soon enough.
The overture seems a tad long, but this, I think, is because there are no opening credits to read.
The sets are deceptively simple. The production values of this show are extremely high, but it's fairly low-tech by today's computer generated-virtually realistic-marvel of mechanics standards. That is to say, it looks a little bit cheesy, but deliberately so, historically and appropriately so, and besides, who doesn't love cheese around the holidays? The colors are bright and splashy- almost, but not quite- garish, even. Though the set pieces were minimal and mobile, there were plenty of them, enough to create a combat environment, four different stage spaces, a train car, the upscale Columbia Inn and a barn (Of course. A barn.) There are several more interior sets, and a particularly lovely exterior at the end, which, just using basic math skills, seems not simple after all. The lighting was effective and so unobtrusive as to be nearly invisible. Everything looked rich, vibrant and wonderful, so Ken Billington, lighting genius of understatement, is to be commended. Credit also goes to Billington for the Very Special Effects at the show's finale.
It is probable that I irritated the person sitting behind me with my frequent squirming and neck-craning, but I had to: designer Carrie Robbins' costumes are impressive. They're accurately detailed, brilliantly colored, character appropriate and they move with a fantastic fluidity which is delightful to see. Even the shoes are worthy of attention, memorably some bubble boots on a pair of adorable Oxydol Soap girls, Rhoda and Rita, played with commitment and ditzy charm by Kaitlyn Davidson and Kristyn Pope.
If you enjoy heartfelt vocal numbers, you'll like this cast. If you are a fan of imaginative big-production dance numbers, you'll like this cast. If you appreciate good acting, you'll like most of this cast. The strong core cast is joined by an equally strong and versatile ensemble of 16 talented actors who fill out each set with animation and precision. The plummy-voiced Cory Bretsch appears as four different micro- or mega- phone-wielding characters. The primaries, David Elder and James Clow in the roles of Phil Davis and Bob Wallace (respectively) are capable, charming, and physically different enough to be distinguishable from one another. To be honest, I prefer Elder's version of Davis to Bing Crosby's. David Elder brings a welcome stalwart earnestness to Phil, and James Clow in the role of Bob Wallace has the smooth practiced charm of many successful showbiz personalities. Meredith Patterson, who originated the role of Judy Haynes on Broadway, and Trista Moldovan as Betty Haynes, are highly skilled, likeable and authentic.