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Sunday, November 27, 2016

White Christmas

The latest in the Broadway series at the Smith Center was Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and if one knows what one is in for, like I did, one can have a good time. I watched with a kind of goofy smile on my face, for though White Christmas is about as substantial as the artificial snow shot out over the audience at the end, it's a nice way to spend two and a half hours not thinking about anything troubling.

The musical is based on the 1954 film of the same name, which starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and features the song of the title. However, that song, by Irving Berlin of course, debuted in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. The stage musical opened on Broadway, to tepid reviews, in 2008, but has had a long life as a touring show.

This show is steeped in nostalgia, and I imagine the '54 film (which I haven't seen) was already nostalgia. It opens during World War II when two song-and-dance men hook up. Ten years later they are big stars, and meet a sister-act at a New York nightclub. One of the couples is instantly smitten, the other takes a little while longer. All  four end up at an inn in Vermont, which is run by the boys' old general (nothing like whopping coincidences in corny musicals) that is struggling because there is no snow (global warming back then?) The boys decide to put on a show to help him out, a plot device that is old as the hills. They're even doing it in a barn.

The book of the show is by David Ives and Paul Blake--I don't know why it took two people to write such a feeble book, which is full of old jokes and empty platitudes. What matters is the music, all of it written by Irving Berlin, and the dancing, choreographed by Randy Skinner, who also directs (he was the original choreographer of the Broadway show). The stand out numbers are the close of Act I with "Blue Skies," and the opening of Act II, "I Love a Piano," which has some amazing tap dancing. The show closes of course with the title song, but it's interesting that we only hear the chorus. The verse, which is hardly ever heard, is about a guy in Los Angeles who misses the snowy Christmases of his youth, but of course that wouldn't fit here.

As far as the cast goes, I acually recognized two of them. John Schuck, now billed as Conrad John Schuck, was a TV staple of the '70s (especially in his role on McMillan and Wife) and played Walt Waldowsky, the "Painless Pole" in the film version of M*A*S*H. Here he plays the old general. As his busybody concierge is Lorna Luft, who is Judy Garland's other daughter. If that sounds demeaning, Luft starts her own bio with who her mother was.

The leads are charming. Sean Montgomery and Jeremy Benton have to fill the giants shoes of Crosby and Kaye, respectfully, and they do the wise things and don't even try. They play it their own way, and there is no crooning to be heard.

Broadway musicals can comment on the times, or they can be simple escapism. White Christmas is the latter.

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