'White Christmas' Is a Sweet Holiday Treat
|Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Through Jan. 1, 2012
Tickets start at $20
While trying to explain what the film White Christmas was about, prior to attending Irving Berlin’s White Christmas currently running through January 1 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, a few adjectives came to mind. Nostalgic, sentimental and somewhat sappy. This description fit many of the films of the 1950s, and it is essential to have the necessary emotional buy-in when you go to see this show.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is based on the 1954 film, starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and follows the story of Army buddies Bob Wallace (Stephen R. Buntrock) and Phil Davis (David Elder) where we see them entertaining the troops in World War II and revering their cranky but loveable General (Joseph Costa). Flash-forward 10 years to 1954, where we see Wallace and Davis in a successful buddy act on "The Ed Sullivan Show." (Again, remember the buy-in.)
The song tie-in is “Happy Holiday” and we are treated to the first of many song and dance numbers, featuring some fantastic ensemble dancing skill. Costumes give a Technicolor feel, down to the bubble gum pink dresses and apple green suits; visually, you feel transported back to an idealistic time of politeness and squeaky clean and romantic storylines, and, if you like that sort of thing, it feels safe and just plain happy.
When we meet the sister act of the Haynes sisters Betty (Stefanie Morse) and Judy (Shannon O’Bryan), we are prepared for the predictable love story to follow. We meet them in a dumpy cabaret, where the boys watch their sister act and are wowed by their talent. Of course, Philandering Phil casts his eye on blonde beauty Judy, which leads to a wonderful dance number between the two of them, “The Best Things Happen While You Are Dancing” and these two entertainers can really dance, performing their ballroom routine with a backup quintet, they glide back into reality and realize they have crushed on each other. The girls are on their way to Vermont for a gig, and Phil tricks Bob into boarding the train toward the Maple State, rather than Sunny Florida.
To give you the CliffsNotes of this rather hollow plot, the characters end up in Vermont, at the Old Colonel’s Inn and they plan to put on a show (in the barn, go figure!) to help save the inn, which is empty during the holidays due to an unseasonal heat wave. You won’t be disappointed by the song and dance numbers that follow, all creatively costumed by Carrie Robbins, and vocal and dance arrangements by Bruce Pomahac.
Standout numbers in the first act include a somewhat surreal and jazzy rendition of “Blue Skys," with a simplistic backdrop in the barn and a stage full of tappers in snazzy costumes - a great way to enter to intermission!
The second act opens with a fun dance number “I Love a Piano” and this is where you really appreciate the talents of Elder and O’Bryan. They are accomplished triple-threats and it is impressive to witness. This is a show full of old school dancing - ballroom, tap, jazz, and Broadway - for musical theater buffs, there is nothing like a great tap line, and this show is chock-full of them.
There are some fun characters at the inn that expand the plot in between big musical numbers, including the Colonel’s granddaughter, played by 11-year-old Caroline Farley, and his long-suffering hotel manager Martha Watson, portrayed by Ruth Williamson. These characters add another layer of sentiment to this already tooth-aching sweet tale, but it is welcomed in the story, as are the somewhat inappropriate cabaret dancers Rita and Rhoda (Melinda Cowan and Amanda Paulson).
To go back to my list of adjectives, you can add talented, accomplished, sweet, and heartfelt. If thoroughly enjoying this somewhat corny musical is wrong, then I don’t want to be right, as I admit to all that I loved it and was hooting and clapping enthusiastically after each big dance number. I was not the only one - the full house at Segerstrom Center was right there with me, and gratefully ovated at the curtain bows.
One of my Facebook friends was complaining on her wall about not being in the Christmas mood, and my reply to her was, “Go see White Christmas at SCFTA and you will change your tune.” She took my advice and called the box office.