REVIEW: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS comes to the Stage of the Fox Theatre through Dec 27
I originally saw Paul Blake and David Ives' adaptation of the 1954 movie White Christmas back in 2006 at the Muny. There have been some minor changes made to it since then, but it still follows the basic plot of the movie fairly closely. In fact, most of the changes center on the inclusion of additional tunes by Irving Berlin. But, any time a film is reworked for the stage it's going to draw the inevitable comparisons to its original source material, and this version, which features some outstanding moments of song and dance, falls a bit short of expectations.
The play begins in December 1944 as two army buddies, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, entertain their unit with holiday song and dance. The tough, but lovable General Waverly puts an end to the shenanigans, but not before thanking the men for their effort. Ten years later, and Bob and Phil have found stardom, but still stay in touch with their buddies from the war. The pair goes to see a sister act that they are considering adding to their show, and when Phil falls for one of the gals, he tricks Bob into accompanying them to a ski lodge in Vermont. Once there, they discover that the owner of this failing establishment is their former General. Bob cooks up a scheme to save the lodge, and romance blossoms with the Haynes sisters. Naturally, the scheme is misinterpreted which causes a rift with the sisters, but a happy ending is guaranteed for all concerned.
Stephen Bogardus heads the cast as Bob, and he acquits himself well vocally with a nice rendition of the title song. He also leads the dance troupe through a spirited take on "Blue Skies". Kerry O'Malley is also good as his reluctant love interest, Betty Haynes. She shines on a couple of duets they share together; "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and "How Deep is the Ocean". David Elder does strong work here as his partner, Phil Davis, bringing an energy and vitality to his portrayal. He's well matched with Megan Sikora as Judy Haynes. They're prominently featured on two songs that are highlights of the show; "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing", and the act two opening number, "I Love a Piano". Both display considerable flair with their dancing.
The supporting cast is solid, led by: Lorna Luft's (daughter of Judy Garland) brassy performance as the inn's concierge Martha Watson; Sarah Safer, appropriately cute as little Susan Waverly; Kristen Gaetz and Karen Hyland as the mouthy pair known as Rita and Rhoda; and Barry Flatman as the General.
Walter Bobbie's direction is generally fine, but opening night, and especially the first act, seemed a bit flat in spots. The action picked up in the second half, but it never seemed to generate the momentum it needs to completely engage. Randy Skinner's choreography evokes the style of the 1950's in fine fashion. Anna Louizos' scenic design is gorgeous and eye-catching, and the inn itself comes off quite lovely. The train car used during the number "Snow" has just the right look and feel for the era. Carrie Robbins' costumes also add period authenticity. Bruce Pomahac's arrangements of Berlin's compositions are nicely executed for the most part, although some of the choices themselves are less than memorable.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a nostalgic look back at the early 1950's, continues through December 27, 2009 at the Fox Theatre.