Theater Review: ‘Irving Berlin’s White Christmas’ is a Holiday Happy Pill
The touring production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is akin to a cup of hot cocoa on a blustery winter day. It’s theatrical comfort food that stirs up memories of a seemingly simpler time and leaves its audience feeling all warm and cozy inside.
Inspired by the 1954 film, the stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas premiered in 2000 and opened on Broadway in 2009. Since 2007, the show has been touring the country each holiday season. In fact, many of the cast members in this current production including David Elder, Kelly Sheehan, Conrad John Schuck, Lorna Luft, and Emma Grace Berardelli are reprising their roles from previous years.
The story is predictable. The year is 1954. Two army veterans turned showmen team up with two singing sisters to save a struggling inn in Vermont run by their former military general. Will they succeed? Will there be a white Christmas in Vermont after all? Will the guy get the girl? This is the formulaic stuff Hollywood movie musicals were made of.
And one of the things that made those movie musicals so entertaining were their memorable scores and orchestrations. Fans of those movies will delight in the fact that this stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas follows suit. Ripped right out of the Great American Songbook, this show contains such classic Irving Berlin songs as “Blue Skies,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and the title song, “White Christmas.”
These song and dance numbers are dreamily performed by a well-versed cast led by Elder as Bob Wallace and Jeremy Benton as Phil Davis. Elder croons some of the best vocals of the show, including the melodic “Count Your Blessings.” Benton delivers some of the most entertaining dance numbers, along with his onstage partner Sheehan as Judy Haynes. Think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
Randy Skinner was nominated for a Tony Award for his choreography on this production. From the snappy tap numbers like “Let Yourself Go” to the ever-graceful moments like “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” Skinner has bottled the kind of stylish dance sequences most associated with the grand movie musicals of yesteryear.
And if there were any doubt that this show feels like a love letter to Hollywood’s movie musical heyday, Luft makes her mark. Luft is the daughter of Judy Garland and producer Sid Luft. Luft’s lively stage presence makes up for the fact that her vocals seem weary. Still, she is the personification of the line, “You don’t learn that, sweetie, you’re born with it,” which follows her big number “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is a holiday happy pill. And just when you think it might be too sugary-sweet to be palatable, its sweet, sentimental message of fellowship and kindliness sneaks up on you and reminds you of what the holidays are supposed to be about.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs through Sunday at the Durham Performing Arts Center. A daily lottery for discounted tickets is available. For more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/irving-berlins-white-christmas or the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.