By Erin Fleming
In the mood for an old-fashioned, Christmas show about love and family and generosity? The good folks of Drury Lane are offering up a family friendly spectacular is as elegant and charming as the venue itself with the holiday favorite, Irving Berlin‘s White Christmas.
A stage adaptation of the classic 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the musical tells the story of two WWII army buddies turned song and dance men, who endeavor to stage a holiday pageant in a Vermont inn owned by their old commanding officer—all while romancing two singing sisters. This stage version doesn’t stray too far from the film’s tried and true “Let’s Put On a Show” plot. What sets it apart from the movie is the wonderful addition of several tunes from the Berlin catalog and embellished parts for the salty hotel concierge Martha Watson and Susan, the general’s granddaughter.
The success of Drury Lane’s production is due in large part to William Osetek‘s snappy, lighthearted direction of a terrific ensemble, and the comic chemistry between the four leads. Sean Allen Krill and Gina Milo are nicely matched as the awkwardly set-up Bob (Crosby) and Betty (Clooney). They sound wonderful together in “Love and the Weather,” “Count Your Blessings,” and “How Deep Is the Ocean.” Matt Raftery manages to make the scheming and rakish ladies man Phil (Kaye) utterly winning and almost deserving of the sassy Judy (Vera-Ellen,) played by Erica Stephan. Their athletic and gutsy duet on “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” proves the title right.
Osetek’s brisk pacing finds the time for dozens of witty little moments where the ensemble shines. The struggle between Matt Crowle‘s uptight Mike (the Stage Manager) and Dale Benson‘s meandering and ayupping Zeke (the New Englander who came with the barn) is fun to watch. Leryn Turlington and Carol Rose Durkin are delightful as the silly and sexy Rita and Rhoda.
Alene Robertson brings down the house a few times with her deadpan delivery as the wisecracking Martha, as well as with her rousingly brassy, “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” She’s joined later in a reprise by the precociously lovely Maya Lou Hava (double cast with Avery Moss) as Susan.
Beautifully costumed and styled by Robert Kuhn and Rick Jarvie, the musical showcases Crowle’s period-perfect choreography and Music Director Roberta Duchak‘s bold Broadway sound. Kevin Depinet‘s set and Lee Fiskness‘s lighting create the perfect 1950s Christmas card backdrop with just the right amount of enhanced nostalgia. It’s a good thing that the audience is encouraged to sing along with the romantically lush accompaniment of Valerie Maze‘s orchestra—it’s kind of impossible not to. “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano,” stand out as the two most exhilaratingly splashy and tap-tastic production numbers, but none of the dancing disappoints.
Most of the favorite numbers from the film show up the stage version, including “Sisters” and its campy reprise by Bob and Phil. Milo pulls out a glamorous and soulful crooning of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and the ensemble performs “Snow” and “White Christmas” with true affection and warmth. Die-hard fans of the film might be disappointed by the omission of “Heat Wave,” “Mandy,” “Choreography,” and by the cursory nod to “Gee, I Wish I Was Back In the Army,” but there are plenty of other golden Berlin hits that more than make up for that, such as “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” and “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.” (Happily, no one in 2015 is expected to oppose the deletion of the troublingly politically incorrect number, “I’d Rather See A Minstrel Show.”)
The sweetness of this show makes it perfect for the season, and a great option for kids. Most of the conflict in the plot rises from silly misunderstandings and secrets, and the engine fueling the action is a too scarcely seen sense of duty: to family, to old friends, to our true selves.
Osetek says he wanted to create a show about looking for the Christmas that you either want or need, and he truly has. His White Christmas is a show about a Christmas worth dreaming of, “just like the ones we used to know.”