BWW Review: Dreaming of a White Christmas in Atlanta? Look No Further than Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS at The Fox Theatre
- Musical films are so often adapted into full-length productions for the Broadway stage to terrific acclaim. However, when an original film is one of the most beloved holiday movies of all time, the stakes are high to bring the source material to life in a way that matches the caliber of the original. Especially when Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS, the musical version of the 1954 classic starring Bing Crosby, contains some of the most famous holiday tunes in history (think "White Christmas", "Snow", and "Sisters"). Just in time for Christmas, the touring production is playing The Fox Theatre and bringing nostalgia and cheer to Atlanta audiences.
While the majority of the show is set in 1954, the story begins 10 years earlier on a Christmas Eve spent on the front of World War II. Captain Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery), an entertainer by trade, serenades his fellow soldiers. Joined by his buddy Private Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), they attempt to help brighten the spirits of forlorn soldiers missing their families. They are soon interrupted by their commanding officer, General Waverly (Conrad John Shuck), who encourages them to think about how wonderful Christmas will be in 10 years time, when the war is over.
We then fast forward to 1954, after the war, and we are introduced to the successful actor/producer team of Wallace and Davis, who have launched a successful Broadway revue and have many entertainment connections. While both men have made an excellent name for themselves, Bob focuses more on the work and less on fun, while Phil is a notorious ladies' man. The two have a run-in with a set of sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes (Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan), who invite them to check out their act. While Phil and Judy get along swimmingly, Bob and Betty have more than an icy start. During the classic number "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing", Judy and Phil conspire to trick Bob into traveling to Vermont where the ladies are booked to spend the holidays performing at an Inn. On the train to Vermont, the group dreams of how they'll enjoy all the snow. Of all the classic songs from the movie that are a part of the show, I thought that the "Snow" number was best translated, with the entire cast squishing into a train car set and pressuring Bob and Betty to admit their love for snow.
As the group arrives in Vermont, they come to two startling realizations: first, that there is no snow. Second, that the Inn where the sisters are set to perform belongs to none other than General Waverly. As Bob and Phil are flabbergasted to see the General, the housekeeper Martha Watson (Karen Ziemba) informs the ladies that since there is no snow, there is no guests, and they will not be able to pay them. Seeing the General in such a sad state, Phil and Bob decide to bring the out of town try-out of their new show directly to Vermont - along with appealing to their old Army buddies to make the trip and salute the General.
As the story unfolds, the need to inflate the show with miscellaneous elements and numbers is obvious. Backstory for Martha leads to a number that brings down the house, joined by the stellar Kyla Carter as General Waverly's niece Susan. The Act 2 opener "I Love a Piano" showcases the serious dancing chops of stars Jeremy Benton and Kelly Sheehan, plus the ensemble. The show has limited tracks from the film to incorporate into the stage version, so the need to add new songs and numbers including other cast members is understood. However, I felt that some numbers were a bit too long and seemed superfluous, considering that the stage production cuts some important elements from the movie plot such as when Phil saves Bob's life during the bombing scene in the beginning of the movie, or Phil and Judy's plan for a fake engagement. I think that some of those elements should have been incorporated and would have been more familiar to the audience.
When a mix up on the telephone leads to Betty's confusion around Bob's true intentions for bringing the show to Vermont, she unexpectedly leaves town heading for New York. As Bob chases after her, Betty sings the iconic song "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me." As a White Christmas purist, I'm always partial to Rosemary Clooney - but Kelly Conte delivers the vocals in this number more than any other. As Christmas Eve approaches, Betty and Bob return to the Columbia Inn just in time to see the surprise for the General. Bob's plea on the Ed Sullivan show has worked, and members of his old unit have traveled far to surprise the General. During a particularly poignant scene, the General thanks the men for coming, and confirms his intentions to stay as an Innkeeper instead of re-enlisting in the Army.
When audiences think of the movie White Christmas, no doubt the fabulous finale comes to mind. As the cast sings "White Christmas", magic happens as snow starts to fall both in Vermont and in the theatre. With the cast encouraging the audience to sing along, the number means well, but I personally didn't feel that it matched up to the heartwarming finale in the movie. Especially since there is a lively curtain call to a different song immediately following.
Overall, White Christmas in any form can never go wrong. As we head into the holiday season, it warmed my heart to see so many theatre-goers taking the time out of the hustle and bustle to view a classic story, and to see this show be performed for audiences of all ages. What the musical lacks in the sparkle that the movie had, it makes up for with stellar vocals and choreography. Anyone who enjoys dreaming of a white Christmas will enjoy seeing this show!