A Review

'Tis The Season . . .

By R. J. Donovan

Start with some Irving Berlin classics, assemble a cast of solid singers, set the whole thing in a picturesque Vermont Inn, sprinkle on a little snow, and you've got "White Christmas."

The 1954 Paramount film has long been a Christmas staple. So the Powers That Be decided to bring it to the stage. Three stages, actually. Identical productions are running simultaneously in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Directed by Tony Award winner Walter Bobbie, ours is at The Wang Theatre through December 31. 

How does it compare to the film? To be fair, you'd be hard pressed to match the charismatic connection between Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.  However, once things get underway, you settle in with the new faces and the new voices, and before long, the whole thing's dancing happily along and making merry. 

To start, there's a lush overture (remember when shows actually had overtures?) A few changes have been made in the story here and there (there's no "I saved your life and now you owe me" thread between the two guys), and a few adjustments have been made in the music.  The minstrel medley is gone along with "Mandy," "I Wish I Was Back In The Army" and "Choreography," but several new Berlin numbers have been added to flesh things out.

Stephen Bogardus and Michael Gruber play Wallace & Davis, the popular song-and-dance duo who meet up with the also-musical Haynes Sisters (Kerry O’Malley and Nadine Isenegger) through a not-so-innocent ploy on the part of the girls.  Sparks fly -- good and bad -- and the guys wind up side-stepping their next gig in Miami to trail the ladies to their own singing date in snowy Vermont. 

To everyone's surprise, the gentleman who owns the Inn in Vermont is the boy's former commanding General (Terry Beaver) from their Army days.  Business at the Inn is off, the General is losing his shirt, and the guys hatch a plot to put on a show in the barn, bring in all their old Army pals and fill the place, thereby saving the General from financial ruin.

The General's housekeeper and major domo (with a name change from the film) is played by dynamo belting legend Karen Morrow.  She's a smiling addition, especially in her solo spot, "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy." 

Meanwhile, the General's granddaughter, Susan, has been reduced, so to speak, from a young lady to a little girl (Katherine Doherty), who sings with grown-up style and gets a big hand (Doherty's from the area). In two smaller roles, Richard Pruitt is very funny as laid-back handyman Zeke, and Michael Thomas Holmes is a riot as the show-within-the-show's haggard Stage Manager.

In the end, it's the music the crowd wants to connect with, and the show serves it up on a Christmas platter.  The "Happy Holidays / Let Yourself Go" medley is a snappy tap number.  "I Love A Piano" provides some production flash. "Blue Skies" shows off the cast's sharp white costuming. "Count Your Blessings" has been augmented to be delivered first to the granddaughter. And "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" is done as a duet with "How Deep Is The Ocean."

"White Christmas" (above) caps the show.  Then the cast comes back to put a button on the evening with "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm."

As the crowd finally bundles up and heads out into the brisk night air, you can almost hear sleigh bells in the snow.

"White Christmas" is at The Wang Theatre, 265 Tremont Street in Boston, through December 31. For information, call 800-447-7400 or visit www.telecharge.com.

-- OnStage Boston


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