Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (The SOB Review) – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Main Hall, St. Paul, MNIrving Berlin’s White Christmas (The SOB Review) – Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, Main Hall, St. Paul, MN
**1/2 (out of ****)
This Holiday season, the relatively “new” stage version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, based on the 1954 film of the same name, is being produced in both Detroit and St. Paul.
On the plus side, this lavishly produced spectacle that first premiered in San Francisco two years ago contains mesmerizing dancing, elaborate costumes and set design and terrific singing of timelessly sentimental music from that great maestro Irving Berlin. And yes, there’s also a glorious snowstorm that blows through the theatre.
But in the St. Paul production, I couldn’t help but postulate that director Walter Bobbie may have subversively intended a wink and a nod to “Deck The Halls” instead. After all, that Holidays standard with its famous line about donning that fabulous apparel seems much more apropos for White Christmas’ two male leads Stephen Bogardus and Jeffry Denman as the song and dance partners, with the emphasis apparently placed on the term “partners.”
Sure Bogardus at least resembles Bing Crosby as Bob Wallace, and Denman has some of those loose-limbed characteristics of Danny Kaye as Phil Davis. Both have fine voices. Yet there were significantly more sparks between their characters, including during the ultra-campy “Sisters” duet, than there are with the engaging female leads Kerry O’Malley (Betty Haynes) and Kristen Beth Williams (Judy Haynes).
The fact is that despite their terrific singing and hoofing, neither actor is particularly believable in their romantic heter-roles; they would have been far better suited for each other. Given that this was a show set in 1954, perhaps Bobbie merely wants us to subliminally hypothesize that this just exemplifies the way it was for closeted men mid-century 1900s, including those who fought for their country.
O’Malley, on the other hand, was absolutely exquisite as Bogardus’ would-be flame. With just the right mix of aloofness and charm, along with a mighty set of powerful lungs -- especially on the near-showstopping “How Deep Is The Ocean” -- O’Malley singularly delivers the show’s best performance. David Ogden Stiers provides an appropriate degree of gravitas as his struggling ex-general alongside the delightful Ruth Williamson as his innkeeper Martha Watson. And hardly surprising is that eight year old Melody Hollis practically steals the show as perky little Susan Waverly, granddaughter of the former general.
Randy Skinner’s brilliant choreography, including an abundance of breathtaking tap numbers, provides White Christmas with its most consistently captivating moments. And of course, it’s hard to torpedo a show that celebrates the music of one of the 20th Century’s most enduring and endearing composers, Irving Berlin.
Each song and dance number was a welcome diversion to the often inert book by David Ives and Paul Blake (the show clocks in at nearly two and a half slow hours); I found myself repeatedly looking at my watch throughout the performance speculating on when it would end.
Will audiences be entertained? Mostly. But while I have never before seen the film version of “White Christmas,” I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have enjoyed myself more if I had simply purchased the DVD instead.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for Detroit tickets.
Click here for St. Paul tickets.