BWW Reviews: WHITE CHRISTMAS: Nostalgic, Sentimental, Romantic AND an Irving Berlin Score
It's that sense of bonhomie and enthusiasm that is both off-putting and engaging at the same time. You have to suspend disbelief, you have to turn yourself over to your better angels, you have to let go of the worries of your day, the grind that has left you almost pulverized…You have to let yourself go and let the joy and spectacle that's the whole White Christmas experience wash over you and put you in the holiday spirit that you so badly need in your heart and in your life.
The plot's contrivances are silly, the story is slight and the character development is virtually non-existent. But who the hell cares? Irving Berlin's White Christmas is beautifully designed, imaginatively staged, amazingly choreographed and danced and, in case you haven't figured it out yet, it has that Irving Berlin score that will send you out onto Deaderick and Sixth, singing at the top of your lungs.
Tall and handsome, Clow has a rather courtly air about him as Bob Davis, his beautiful voice casting aside any doubts that anyone other than Der Bingle could handle the signature tunes. The charming and good-looking Elder proves himself adept at comedy, delivering his laugh lines with total confidence, and putting on a display of his dancing talents that will leave you breathless.
Elder and Davi's duets are exquisitely staged, recalling images of all the great dance teams who have come before them. They are light on their feet and fully committed to every move they make onstage. Alone, they might be worth the price of admission if it weren't for the Act One closing-"Blue Skies"-that's another full-out, all-singing, all-dancing production number. And then there's Act Two's beautifully mounted "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me/How Deep is the Ocean"-set in a posh Manhattan supper club, awash in black and white Art Deco-influenced visuals-stirringly performed by Morse and Clow.
Davi is gorgeous in her blond wig, her lithe body showing off Skinner's choreography with elan. Morse, whose wearing peep toe shoes in Vermont in late December (I realize drag knows no season, but seriously?), is the very picture of a 1954 number of Vogue magazine, embodying the emerging modern woman who first made her imprint in that post-war era.
In addition to Costas, who plays General Waverly with an earnest sincerity, the supporting cast includes the delightful Ruth Williamson as the clarion-voiced Martha Watson (who looks ever so glamorous in the finale), the woman who wields the real power at the Columbia Inn, and Tony Lawson as Ed Sullivan Show producer Ralph Sheldrake. And Abby Church and Kelly Sheehan are winningly cast as showgirls Rita and Rhoda.
Many of the film's songs are featured in the stage show-including "Happy Holiday," "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," "Snow," "The Old Man," "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" and the title tune (which, lord help me, can have me puddling up like nobody's business in no time flat)-along with some of Berlin's most beloved tunes interpolated from other shows, including "Blue Skies" (which ranks right up there with "Alexander's Ragtime Band" in my estimation), "I Love a Piano" (which is done as one of the most entertaining tap numbers you've ever seen-give me a chorus line of pretty boys smiling broadly, gorgeous girls in glamorous costumes tap dancing their hearts out and that's what I hope my heaven will be like) and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" (which comes almost as a surprise during curtain calls, regardless of its place in the playbill list of musical numbers, and once again totally delights you with Randy Skinner's expert choreography and the unfettered joy of the entire company).
Certainly, Berlin's music is from a different time and place in the development of American musical theater, but it's such an important and vital part of the history of the art form that you cannot call yourself a fan of musical theater and not acknowledge it. It's quintessentially American, a blending of Tin Pan Alley, operetta, minstrel show, vaudeville and everything else that the theater has been since Thespis first stepped before the footlights. Under the baton of conductor/musical director Michael Horsley, the 19-member orchestra performs the score with exceptional musicianship, paying tribute to Berlin and providing the audience with a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Kenneth Foy's scenic design is simplified from earlier touring productions of Irving Berlin's White Christmas, based upon Anna Louizos' set design for the Broadway production. Carrie Robbins' costumes are beautifully designed evocations of period fashions, with the influence of Christian Dior and his New Look evident throughout the sumptuous wardrobe (her color palette is theatrically appealing and some of her costumes are almost winkingly, tongue-in-cheekingly cute, particularly those red-and-white Fair Isle sweaters sported by the cute chorus boys in the finale and Davi and Morse's gorgeous gowns). Ken Billington's lighting design adds warmth, while directing the audience's attention, while Peter Fitzgerald's sound design worked harmoniously in the expansive Jackson Hall.
- Irving Berlin's White Christmas. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Directed by Norb Joerder. Choreographed by Randy Skinner. Musical direction by Michael Horsley. Presented by Theseus Productions LLC and Theater of the Stars Inc. at Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall. Through November 18. For details, go to www.tpac.org.