Thursday, December 4, 2008

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Well, at least the music is good. Too bad the rest of the production doesn’t live up to it. Tony Award-winner Walter Bobbie directs this lackluster new musical based on the classic 1954 film. With a cute, if corny, story and some of the best songs ever written, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas should be great entertainment, but it plays more like an amateur work than a Broadway show.

Like the movie “White Christmas,” the musical, with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, tells the story of two showbiz buddies and World War II veterans (Stephen Bogardus and Jeffrey Denman) who put on a show in a picturesque Vermont inn owned by their former General (Charles Dean) to help save his financially struggling establishment. That concept transfers all right to stage, but the romances of the two men and the singers (Kerry O’Malley and Meredith Patterson) they are fated to court have no sparkle or life. Despite lots of singing and dancing together, they never seem more than passing acquaintances.

Another big sinker is Randy Skinner’s unimaginative choreography, which is crippled by a few dancers who appear to need more rehearsal time -- lots more.

The third major problem for me is the hammy dialogue, typical of old-time movies, and the reason I never cared much for them. When Betty (O’Malley) tries to brush off Bob (Bogardus), she says, “Sometimes the twain don’t meet,” and he replies, “And sometimes the train doesn’t get out of the station.” That kind of talk gets tiresome real fast.

O’Malley is at her best when she is man-less. She’s dynamite making her solo nightclub debut at the Regency Room and belting out “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Anna Louizos’ set is dazzling, with its cocktail tables, grand piano and spectacular backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. All of her sets are good, but city-slicker that I am, this one is my favorite.

Unfortunately in the same scene Bogardus misses all the soulfulness of one of my favorite songs of that era, “How Deep is the Ocean?” Sitting alone at a table longing for Betty, he sounds like someone who has taken a sleeping pill and then is asked to go on and sing. No passion.

A few of the supporting roles are engaging. Dean as the General is good, as is Susan Mansur as Martha Watson, his longtime, wisecracking assistant, and 10-year-old Melody Hollis in her Broadway debut as the scene-stealing, precocious Susan Waverly, the General’s granddaughter.

Carrie Robbins’ costumes are also nice, and you will definitely know what season it is in the final scene with the women’s RED gowns.

But, as I said, it’s the songs that save this show. Besides “How Deep is the Ocean?” and the Oscar-winning title song that is the best-selling single in history, selections include “Happy Holidays,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Blue Skies” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas continues at the Marquis Theatre, Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets, through Jan. 4. Tickets are available by visiting or through

No comments: