BWW Review: WHITE CHRISTMAS National Tour
It seems that the best things really do happen while you're dancing, or at least they do in the touring production of WHITE CHRISTMAS that's currently at DPAC. The musical is at its very best during its high-energy dance numbers. The show is based on the 1954 holiday classic film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the show is a fun Christmas-themed romp with plenty of 1950s nostalgia, beautiful costumes, and great tap dancing.
This stage version of White Christmas is directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner. It follows two army veterans, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who are famous entertainers post-war. When they meet sister act Betty and Judy Haynes, they're immediately enamoured and end up following them up to an inn in Vermont where they decide to mount their rehearsals for their next big show. Imagine their surprise to find that the inn is run by their former army general -- and that there's no snow in Vermont in December. The musical premiered at the Muny in 2000 and on Broadway in 2008.
It can be difficult to separate this musical from the film it's based on, but it's most enjoyable when you can appreciate it for what it is and forget that it's an adaptation. There are some moments that are obviously replicas of scenes from the movie, like the costumes and feather fans for the "Sisters" duet. However, it is impossible to recreate the scale of the movie onstage and there are also changes to the story and characters. Phil is more of a playboy, Bob is more opposed to love, and Betty admits her feelings a lot sooner.
The book of the musical, written by Paul Blake and David Ives, feels more centered around the romances than the original film. I felt that the musical didn't sell the romances as well as the film as they felt oddly rushed, but appreciated the addition of the character of Martha, the housekeeper at the end who has Broadway aspirations herself. The book is full of humor and funny moments, though it also has some awkward spots of dialogue. Overall, compared to the other elements, the script is the weakest part of the show.
On the other hand, the songs and dancing are the best moments. The musical has all of the songs from the film that audiences know and love like "Snow" and "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," supplemented by other Irving Berlin songs like "Love and the Weather" and "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." These songs are perfectly integrated into the structure of the show so that nothing feels out of place. The tap dancing is absolutely exquisite and the tap number, "I Love a Piano," that opens Act II is a definite highlight.
It is no easy feat to take on roles made famous by the likes of legends like Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, but the cast do a great job of making the characters their own and not simply being carbon copies of their counterparts on film. Kerry Conte has classic old Hollywood glamour as Betty Haynes, though she brings to mind Maureen O'Hara more than Rosemary Clooney. She also has a rich and lovely voice, which fits her songs beautifully. While David Elder doesn't have the same dignity and gravitas as Bing Crosby, his lighter charm makes more sense for song-and-dance man Bob Wallace. His voice is perfectly suited to these more old-fashioned songs; he sounds like a 1950s crooner.
Jeremy Benton and Kelly Sheehan shine as the more light-hearted pair Phil and Judy and are very skilled dancers. The general's granddaughter, Susan, is younger in the stage show than in the film and Emma Grace Berardelli brings a precocious cheerfulness to the role. Lorna Luft (yes, that Lorna Luft, Judy Garland's daughter) plays housekeeper Martha Watson who has some hilarious numbers and is a good foil to Conrad John Schuck's more subdued General.
The design of the piece is fantastic from the colorful period costumes by Carrie Robbins to the varied sets by Anna Louizos. The costumes complement the dancing particularly well, with swirling skirts and detailed heeled tap shoes for the women. One of the best sets is the detailed train car used for the "Snow" number. The Ed Sullivan Show parts were also particularly cheerful and bright.
If you're looking for a bit of Christmas cheer, this musical certainly delivers. The cast make their roles their own and prove themselves to be true triple threats. While it doesn't always live up to the film it's based on, White Christmas is a fun holiday show full of showy dance numbers and great Irving Berlin songs.
WHITE CHRISTMAS is playing at DPAC until December 8. You can find out more and buy tickets here.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniels Photography