21 November 2010

"White Christmas: The Musical": A Review

If one starts with the premise that White Christmas, the movie, isn't half the film that Holiday Inn is, it's much easier to understand that any stage musical based upon the remake will have inherent weaknesses, no matter the strength of the performances.

And so it is with the production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas that just closed at the Bushnell in Hartford: many nice performances of several Irving Berlin songs (some great, some good, and some just okay) that don't coalesce into a full-bodied musical that I'd want to see repeatedly -- the hallmark, I feel, of how a musical should make one feel! 

So, I enjoyed it, but I have just a few scattered comments:

The acting was solid across the board, but the book didn't demand nor encourage much texture in the characters.  My younger daughter and I were taken most by Ruth Williamson's Martha Watson and Erick Devine's General Waverly.  ("Everyone already thinks we are married; we fight all the time and don't have sex!")  Denis Lambert's Phil Davis seemed to get to have the most fun, and he looked to be taking full advantage.

The tap dancing in "I Love a Piano" and "Happy Holidays/Let Yourself Go" was terrific.  The show could've used even more. 

The dancing of "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" worked, while in "Blue Skies" (perhaps the best Berlin song in the whole musical), the choreography seemed tired.  (Indeed bringing in the General, Martha, and Susan for comic relief several times in the midst of it seemed to suggest that even the choreographer realized it couldn't stand on its own.) 

Both versions of "Sisters" (first by Amy Bodnar and Shannon M. O'Bryan and then John Scherer and Mr. Lambert) were quite fun, although two short both times. 

My favorite performance of the afternoon -- the trio by Bodnar, O'Bryan, and Williamson, of "Falling Out of Love Can be Fun" was great, although I must admit to being disappointed that, when she came in toward the end of the song, the young lady who played Susan Waverly didn't prove that she was "born with it" right then and there! 

"Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" is the showstopper of the belter Williamson, and she delivered. 

Bodnar's "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" was less successful, however...sounding forced and not effectively torchy.

The ensemble's "Snow" played very well, as did Mr. Scherer's "Count Your Blessings."

And, ANY show that uses "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" (even if only for the curtain call) is okay by me.

The real downside, in my opinion, is that, having seen Irving Berlin's White Christmas today (11/2110), I guess the holiday season has begun -- even before Thanksgiving.  And THAT, no matter what the stores want us to think, is NEVER a good thing.

I want to be more excited than I am, but I take comfort in the hope that a screening of Holiday Inn is in my not-too-distant future!

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