It is not unusual to take a musical and create a big screen adaptation. It was part of the norm back in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Some of the best of Broadway made it to the big screen bringing with it some of the stars of the stage. Here we are and some 56 years after a classic musical film that touched many lives and become part of or tradition during the holidays to watch has done the opposite. ‘White Christmas’ not only was the title of the film it was the song that solidified Irving Berlin as an amazing composer to be remembered always during the holidays.
It is appropriate the show is “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”, to help make it stand out from the film. If you are expecting to see your grandparent’s favorite holiday film with the likes of characters that stood out as much as the actors that played them, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, you are in for a surprise. For this is a treat in a classic Broadway show filled with Berlin’s music, some of which were not in the original film.
Under the direction of Norb Joerder with book for the stage production written by David Ives and Paul Blake, ‘White Christmas’ is a joyful strole down a holiday tradition that those who came before would be proud to see. It provides the older and newer generation to have new traditions together.
It is a staged production that takes liberties with adding some of Berlin’s other classic songs to help to overall story flowing. With that said, the show also changes some key plots that throw the most seasoned watcher of the film in a whirlwind of shock. Be warned that parts of the story that kept the film flowing are gone, such as Phil saving Bob which of course Phil always reminds him about. The stage show also switches around some of the numbers sequences from the film for the adaption of the stage which does come across quite refreshing. So please if you do go see the show, have an opened mind and let the whole effect of the show be welcomed as the grand performance it is.
The story still starts during WWII with Bob and Phil hamming it up for the troops on Christmas day 1944 played by Stephen R. Burntrock and David Elder respectively. They are a well paired duo Bing and Kaye would be proud to see perform. Burntrock has a sultry voice that lets the words of Berlin seem so soothing and exciting again, while on the other spectrum, Elder, while no slouch of a vocalist, truly cuts the rug as a dancer. Light on his feet and fast in his tap dancing, Elder matches very well with fellow star Shannon M. O’Bryan playing the younger of the Haynes sisters Judy. O’Bryan had tough shoes to fill, but did it wonderfully as the original role had Vera-Ellen showing which of the sisters was fancier on her feet. To balance out Burntrock vocally you add sister Betty played by Stefanie Morse whose rendition of ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me’ just reminds you of Rosemary Clooney and her style of power and control.
With such talented principals you sometimes lose out on the seconds, those supporting and sometimes overlooked characters. Not so with ‘White Christmas’. The supporting cast is one of the strongest I have seen for a national tour. With Joseph Costa as Gen. Waverly being played opposite of Ruth Williamson as Martha you have a couple that is enjoyable to watch when you see them on stage, just waiting for what banter they are going to give you next. Add in the adorable Caroline Farley as granddaughter Susie, I’m sorry Susan, with the comedic levity of the barn worker Ezekiel, played by Richard Pruitt and you have some magic in store.
I cannot forget the ensemble that do an amazing job of doing what I consider the toughest thing to do on stage together, tap. It is an art form in its own right that you just do not see much of these days on stage in big productions. Dancing in time as a group is hard. Add in tap shoes and you can be in for some tough articulation and unity. I consider tap to be an extension of the music as it can create sounds and rhythms that can either accompany a song or done wrong, drown it out. You will be happy to know they make music.
If you are looking to keep with a holiday tradition with a twist, don’t watch ‘White Christmas’ at home. Go out and see it in real life. Listen and feel what Berlin is famous for doing, feeling the music. See the sights of some absolutely outstanding costumes, design by Carrie Robbins, with the visual stunning and technical grace of movement, choreographer Randy Skinner, and a dash of sounds to send you back in time, Musical Director John Visser. THIS ‘White Christmas’ is sure to become a new holiday tradition for many years to come.
As is my tradition for reviews, I add a little bit of life’s happenings in relation to the show. If I had to choose one bit of wisdom from both the film and the stage production it would be one of its little hidden gems of a thought. Life has been tough for many these past years, including myself. In order to go on and keep our spirits high we can’t stop and stall ourselves on the bad around us. We need to count our blessings. The positives in our lives should be our source of happiness and fire for our souls. Then and only then will we thrive as individuals, families or with each other. During this holiday season, count your blessings no matter what you believe in. That is the only way we will learn from each other.
Happy Holidays and may your dreams of your ‘White Christmas’ come true.
See ‘Irving Berlin’s White Christmas’ at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts December 13, 2011 – January 1, 2012.
Follow my adventures in entertainment in Southern California on Twitter @SCThrillsMarc.