Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
nytheatre.com review by Lynn Marie Macy
November 20, 2011
If you are looking for a fun, family-friendly, entertaining event for the Christmas holiday season by all means head to the Paper Mill Playhouse’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. The show is based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.
This musical adaptation was first produced in San Francisco in 2004 and opened on Broadway in December 2008 and December 2009. The book is by David Ives and Paul Blake and skillfully expands the story while staying faithful to the period charm of the film. Of course the real highlights of the evening are the well-loved songs by Irving Berlin, performed here to “cinematic” perfection.
The show follows the story of two army buddies turned famous song-and-dance duo Wallace and Davis. They end up travelling to a Vermont inn filled with quirky characters where they stage a big holiday production for their former general in order to save his inn from bankruptcy. In the process they fall in love with the performing Haynes sisters while heroically staving off looming financial disaster.
Director Mark Bruni, who was assistant director on the Broadway show, keeps the pace rolling and the energy high. He has assembled an extremely talented cast, many of whom have also worked on past productions as well. James Clow as Bob Wallace and Tony Yazbeck as Phil Davis both have an appealing “everyman” quality to their performances which effortlessly conducts us into their nostalgic world of crooning and hoofing. Meredith Patterson and Jill Paice take on the tough-talking Haynes sisters who divert the duo’s attention to more amorous considerations with bravado and grace. Edward James Hyland is wonderfully touching as General Waverly, particularly in scenes with his young granddaughter Susan, enchantingly portrayed by cute-as-a-button Andie Mechanic. Funny, brash and unabashed Lorna Luft walks off with every moment featuring her character Martha Watson, a former Broadway singer turned inn concierge. Her rendition of “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy” is a show-stopper. A versatile ensemble playing multiple roles with solid assurance rounds out the top-notch cast. The “Hollywood” movie musical choreography by Randy Skinner is certainly fun and creative and is expertly executed by all of the dancers.
The plentiful and colorful costumes by Carrie Robbins compliment the genre beautifully and are impressive in their detail. (Though one often wonders how they manage to cram all those fluffy outfits into such little suitcases.) The lighting design by Ken Billington and scenic design by Anna Louizos support the action throughout leaving a decidedly “projected” impression. This perspective does not always work. The set employs very few levels and from time to time the show lacks a certain visual depth. There are also some issues with the sound, which in the bigger numbers comes across as uncomfortably loud through speakers.
Decibel levels aside this White Christmas is the perfect family destination this holiday season.