Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at The 5th Avenue Theatre

An iconic classic without the spark.

By: Dec. 02, 2023
Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at The 5th Avenue Theatre
The cast of The 5th Avenue Theatre's
production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

Dear Readers, you know I love a good rousing tap number as much as the rest of you.  So those old musicals on stage such as “Singing in the Rain”, or “Holiday Inn” are right up my alley.  And also up there on that list would be “Irving Berlin's White Christmas”.  The 5th Avenue did this one 14 years ago in 2009, which I must note was the same year I started sharing my thoughts with you all.  So that production, as good as it was, holds a special place in my heart.  Now, the 5th Avenue has brought back this wonderful icon and either I’m more jaded in my old age or something went wrong as this production just didn’t have that same spark of magic.  And without that, this show falls flat.

It's still the same old story where people burst into song and the best way to solve any problem is to find an old barn, some costumes, some eager young chorus kids, and put on a show.  In this case it’s army veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Ashley Day and Phillip Attmore).  They performed back in 1944 for their fellow troops and now in 1954 they’ve become big stars.  So, when they hear their old General (Reginald André Jackson) is in financial straits with his Inn, they spring into action.  And they’ve hopped onto this bandwagon with the Haynes Sisters, Betty and Judy (Cayman Ilika and Taryn Darr).  But when a misunderstanding splits up Bob and Betty, their plans may go up in smoke.  Oh, and there’s a love story or two with Bob and Betty and Phil and Judy.  Or at least, there should be.

And this was where the show lost its spark.  David Armstrong and James A. Rocco have returned to direct this one but forgot to include any kind of heart.  Technically it all looks good.  The signers have great voices, although not always together, and the dancers are great, although I question some of the choreography choices from Rocco as Fosse and Martha Graham styles feel about a decade too early, but no one was connecting with anyone else on that stage.  It's like they were all directed to do their own parts, in their own shows and then suddenly found themselves on stage with all these other people.  And that lack of connection kills any kind of heart the show may have had and certainly killed the love stories as there was no chemistry to be found.

Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at The 5th Avenue Theatre
Cayman Ilika, Taryn Darr, and company
in The 5th Avenue Theatre's production
of Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka

The cast is certainly talented, with the best performances coming from the ladies.  Ilika and Darr are wonderful together and show the most chemistry between the two of them.  And their voices and moves are fantastic.  And I have to mention a showstopper solo from Ilika near the end that brought down the house.  Plus, we were blessed with another fabulous number from Candice Song Donehoo as Martha, the woman who keeps the Inn running but longs for the spotlight. 

But those performances weren’t enough to save this show, especially when the other two leads, Day and Attmore, brought in the most egregious examples of “being in their own shows”.  They’re both talented singers and dancers, but even with each other they lacked a cohesion and genuine camaraderie that two soldiers who went through a war and then into show business together should have.  And that lack of any kind of brotherhood spilled out into the storyline of saving their General.  I just couldn’t feel why they were there.

So, while this wonderful piece certainly had the talent, it lacked the heart.  Like a Christmas snow globe, it was full of color, movement, and detail and it was beautiful to behold.  But only of image, not essence.  And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre’s production of “Irving Berlin's White Christmas” a sparkless MEH+.  If you only need those songs and dances, you’ll be fine.  If you want that warm feeling from the story, watch the movie. 

Irving Berlin's White Christmas” performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through December 24th.  For tickets or information visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.




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