Bland 'White Christmas' dilutes its holiday cheer
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA,AP Drama Critic AP - Monday, November 24
NEW YORK - Who diluted the holiday cheer?
The festivities are muted and mild in "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," a lavish, yet surprisingly bland stage adaptation of the popular 1954 movie.
This version, which opened Sunday at Broadway's Marquis Theatre, raids Berlin's considerable catalog of songs to augment the film score, which was centered around "White Christmas," the most iconic of the composer's melodies.
Much of the blame can be placed on the perfunctory book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Their effort is pretty much joke- and drama-free, but the movie wasn't exactly "Medea" either. It's a tale of two song-and-dance men (Stephen Bogardus and Jeffry Denman) who travel to Vermont and save a picturesque inn run by their former World War II commander, a retired general (Charles Dean).
Along the way, the buddies find romance with two sisters (Kerry O'Malley and Meredith Patterson). And they put on a show _ in a barn, of course _ that helps the general's little granddaughter (Melody Hollis) discover what appears to be her inner "Annie" and the military man's long-suffering housekeeper (Susan Mansur) win over her boss.
The barren stretches of story are blessedly interrupted by the Berlin songs, many of them standards, sung and danced by the energetic cast. Director Walter Bobbies hurries the book scenes along as fast as he can. You wait for the melodies to kick in, especially when they are accompanied by Randy Skinner's spirited choreography.
The show is at its most buoyant when Denman and Patterson are tapping their hearts out in numbers such as that ragtime chestnut "I Love a Piano." Or when they are gliding across a nightclub floor in the appropriately titled "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing."
Bogardus, one of Broadway's most dependable leading men, scores with an affecting "How Deep Is the Ocean," which has been artfully entwined with "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," torched to perfection by O'Malley.
"White Christmas" is well-appointed. Designer Anna Louizos' parade of settings includes a backdrop of swirling black-and-white keys for that "Piano" number, a swank New York boite and a snow-covered scene of outdoors Vermont. Carrie Robbins' Eisenhower-era costumes are colorful, particularly the women's opulent gowns.
Using old songs in new musicals has been around for quite a while. George and Ira Gershwin classics supplied much of the fun in such shows as "My One and Only" in the early '80s and in "Crazy for You" a decade later. Four years ago, Jerome Kern melodies were used less successfully in "Never Gonna Dance."
Berlin's tunes are joyous creations, but the musical pleasures here exist in isolated moments, not as part of a dizzy, satisfying theatrical whole. You can tell the show has been cobbled together by committee and not exactly from the heart.
"White Christmas," which has played in various cities at holiday time since 2004, is a limited engagement, running on Broadway only through Jan. 4.
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