A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.
In 1942, Irving Berlin signed a contract with Paramount to write songs for a film with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire called "Holiday Inn." It was expected that the big single to come out of that movie would be "Be Careful, It's My Heart," but things didn't turn out that way. The blockbuster hit from the movie was "White Christmas."
Some 12 years later, Bing was back, teamed up with Danny Kaye, Rosie Clooney and Vera-Ellen to make "White Christmas," a black-and-white film that has since been colorized, and still brings tears to the eyes of those who remember when. Now on Broadway, you have a full-color version of "White Christmas" on stage, and it will also bring tears to your eyes also, but only from excessive yawning, not joy.
Maybe the film evokes wonderful memories, but the show is tired, despite some fine renditions of classic American standards: "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Sisters," Happy Holidays," "Count Your Blessings," and of course, "White Christmas."
Seeing these standards come alive is eye candy for the holiday depressed, especially if you harbor a secret fondness for crinolines, tuxes, and the halcyon days of the '50s when all was right with the world. In "White Christmas," it is 1954, and the now famous song-and dance team of Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, friends since they entertained the troops together during World War II, is supposedly flying to Florida to enjoy the weather and a gig for the holidays.
But first they take a detour to see Betty and Judy, a sister act, before they leave for warmer climes and Phil is smitten. He wants the girls (they didn't call 'em women in those days) to join their act but they've already committed to a gig in Vermont. Since Phil is in charge of travel arrangements, he tricks Bob into thinking he's on the train to Florida, and he doesn't find out he 's going north instead of south until it's too late.
When they get to the Vermont inn, the guys discover the innkeeper is their old General Waverly from the War and he's down on his luck financially. No snow. No guests. Lots of unpaid bills. Bob secretly sends out an SOS to all the guys in their company and invites them to the inn to surprise the General and everybody lives happily ever after and all the bills get paid.
While all this is going on, in an equally tired subplot, Phil keeps trying to fix Bob up with a girl but he's sour on love -- girls are "too much like the weather." Of course, this is a challenge for Phil and Bob falls for one of the sisters. Clearly Bob is easily duped.
Perhaps thatï¿½s the major drawback to this stage rendition of an iconic movie: the story itself is insipid. Except for the two outstanding production numbers of "I Love a Piano" and "Blue Skies," the rest is clichï¿½ and a bit too fluffy for modern tastes.
Stephen Bogardus plays a debonair Bob, but heï¿½s neither a Josh Groban heart throb nor a Bing Crosby crooner. As for Jeffry Denman who plays the girl-crazy Phil, he's cool but lacks the humor and infectiousness of Danny Kaye. Kerry Oï¿½Malley and Meredith Patterson as OK as Betty and Judy, but this is not your A-list cast.
A fitting ending to this show would have been seeing a bunch of soldiers in uniform march down the aisles of the orchestra to surprise the General onstage. That'd be a pizzazz-y finale to buoy everyone's spirits a bit. Instead, the ending falls flat as the cast has the audience join them in a Mitch Miller sing-along of "White Christmas."
Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus
What the press had to say.....
"Youï¿½d have to be in a desperately, even pathologically nostalgic mood to derive much joy from the stage retread of ï¿½White Christmas,ï¿½ a synthetically cozy trip down memory lane." & "The leading roles are really just place holders for star personalities, and none of the principals brings much in the way of wattage to their assignments. The romantic heat generated by both couples put together wouldnï¿½t melt a snowflake." & "About as fresh and appealing as a roll of Necco wafers found in a mothballed Christmas stocking."
New York Times
"As Broadway musicals go, it's a little creaky. But as a holiday entertainment, it's light and bright and boasts some great production numbers." & "Everything comes together on "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," as what's on stage calls to mind a Currier and Ives holiday card come to life ï¿½ snow included."
New York Daily News
"A little disappointing... so lacking in genuine Yuletide spirit. Looking to this would-be seasonal perennial for holiday cheer is like trying to get warm while watching the "Yule Log" on TV." & "the four stars... lack the outsize personalities necessary to make us care about their cardboard characters. The overall blandness extends to the supporting cast..." & "Like that fake snow that pours down upon the audience, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" is artificial enough to bring out the inner Scrooge in anyone."
New York Post
"It cannot quite make up its mind whether to cheekily parody the mildly idiotic movie, or sweetly swoon over its antique innocence." & "You might think that great songs can salvage anything, but many of the songs here are lesser Berlin. Still, there are those marvelously evocative Louizos sets and dazzlingly outrageous Robbins costumes for us to feast on."
This lighter-than-tinsel ornament has floated onto Broadway, and it's as insubstantial as the sudsy snowflakes that fall on the audience during the grand finale. Granted, the show is meant to be nothing more than an entertaining interlude, but even by the standards of the 1954 MGM classic upon which it is based, this is forgettable fare."
"A reasonable facsimile of what it's meant to be - a manipulation of the sentimental holiday marketplace that does not disturb the seasonal equilibrium with a bubble of original thought." & "Randy Skinner's choreography combines exuberant ballroom dance and his tap from the revival of "42nd Street." Ever-changing sets by Anna Louizos neatly take us from an Army camp to a train and a barn theater. But the orchestra sounds tinny and the production cries out for a smaller theater or a bigger chorus."
"it's puzzlingly faithful to the tedious film plot, and, for good measure, has the lamest jokes heard in a long, long time. If you can tolerate the talking part, the show, which opened Sunday at the Marquis Theatre, has a number of pleasant musical numbers built around Irving Berlin songs." & "As a show intended to entertain people who perhaps haven't seen many other Broadway musicals, and therefore lack the experience to judge the difference between the singular and the generic, "White Christmas" does its job. But no more than that."
"Look, I don't want to be a Grinch. How mean-spirited would I have to be to pan "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," for goodness' sake... Do not spend hundreds of dollars seeing this cheap and cheesy "live" version of the movie!... The Grinch, I'm afraid, must prevail.
Jacques le Sourd
"Who diluted the holiday cheer? The festivities are muted and mild in "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," a lavish, yet surprisingly bland stage adaptation of the popular 1954 movie." & "The barren stretches of story are blessedly interrupted by the Berlin songs, many of them standards, sung and danced by the energetic cast." & "Berlin's tunes are joyous creations, but the musical pleasures here exist in isolated moments, not as part of a dizzy, satisfying theatrical whole. You can tell the show has been cobbled together by committee and not exactly from the heart."
"This somewhat mechanical show feels like a road production staffed with mostly second-tier talent. More seasonal confection than full-bodied musical theater, it coasts along on the strength of its melodious numbers and sparkling visuals, which should suffice to keep the tourist trade happy." & "The disposable narrative frame serves merely as a tree on which to hang ornamental production numbers."
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