“Off with my overcoat, off with my glove!
I need no overcoat, I’m burning with love!”
A smattering of snowy flurries is occurring right now at the Bank of America theatre, accompanied by a toe-tapping score and production values to beat the band.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is just what the doctor ordered. Fun, warm, tap-dancy and stylish, this national tour should find its way in Chicago every holiday season (in fact, Marriott Theatre up in Lincolnshire is staging the show this time next year). Sure, the plot is steeped in clichés and paper thin (boy gets girl, boy loses girl due to some sort of vague misunderstanding, “Hey! Let’s put on a Broadway show in a barn!,” girl sings torch song, comedic sidekicks do some showstoppers, girl comes crawling back to boy, finale). But the music is grand, the costumes are numerous and eye-popping, and choreography by Randy Skinner (who’s made a career out of staging another tap dance favorite, 42nd Street, around the world, including the recent Broadway revival) is right on point. You can’t help but enjoy yourself.
A sin perhaps, but I’ve never seen the 1954 movie. So, my exposure to this stage version is unencumbered by the legendary performances of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. Overall, the cast is fine, but I did have some issues with two of the leads in the vocal department. While John Scherer (the Crosby role) is a handsome, rosy-cheeked presence, his singing voice has a nasal timbre with wide vibrato. Same with his romantic counterpart, played by Clooney in the film, Amy Bodnar. While she looks lovely (reminiscent of Gina Davis in “A League of Their Own”) in her red wig and stylish Carrie Robbins costume designs, her vibrato is, also, wide and unpleasant. But the acting by both Scherer and Bodnar is grounded and believable.
As the other drama-free couple, Shannon M. O’Bryan and Denis Lambert fare much better with their songs, and seemingly float on air in their two big dance numbers, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and the lively second act opener “I Love a Piano.” (Which, by the way, is staged differently than what’s on the video preview here. In fact, this video seems to be from another production altogether. Strange.)
Another standout performance is Ruth Williamson as the wise-cracking Vermont innkeeper, Martha Watson, who has a heart of gold and a show-biz singing voice. Williamson has been a musical comedy fixture on Broadway for decades, so it was fun to see her sink her chops into this featured role.
A relatively large orchestra (17 players in the pit if I’m counting correctly, which is rather generous, unfortunately, for musicals these days) sounds full and bright, representing Mr. Berlin’s score with panache.
By tried and true conclusion, those barn doors open, and sure enough the snow is falling. And, much to my surprise, they made it snow in the auditorium as well, turning the Bank of America theatre into a giant snowglobe. A Christmas miracle! I wonder how much producers paid mother nature to extend the flurries outside as we poured out onto Monroe Street, humming those timeless Irving Berlin songs.
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” plays through Jan. 2, 2011 at the Bank of America Theatre. More info here >