The story, taking place in 1954, finds a couple of World War II friends, Bob (Jon Scherer) and Phil (Denis Lambert), pursuing the Haynes sisters Betty (Amy Bodnar) and Judy (Shannon M. O'Bryan) to the Columbia Inn, a cozy Vermont lodge. While there, everyone gets to know one hoot of an innkeeper, Martha Watson (Ruth Williamson). Also on the scene is General Henry Waverly (Erick Devine), who commanded Bob and Phil (soldiers at the time) a decade earlier.
Since the lodge is far from a blossoming financial success, Bob and Phil figure they can raise some funds by developing a Broadway revue. Whether or not Bob and Betty will survive as a couple seems mildly problematic. Yet, this is a feel good musical; never fear.
Phil and Judy are the more intriguing couple since these two can and will dance up an absolute storm. Randy Skinner's choreography is a treat throughout, but his imaginative dance numbers reach a pinnacle with the evening's flashiest number, "I Love a Piano," following intermission. Featuring exquisite tap dancing, actors Lambert and O'Bryan (joined by others) cannot be denied. It's a stirring dance piece and it lasts for quite some time!
The show then settles back into a more predictable format. Norb Joerder's direction and John Visser's musical direction cannot be faulted. Berlin's music remains catchy and tuneful. This touring package is a most professional one.
John Scherer, leading man, is fine. His vibrato during a first scene rendering of "White Christmas" is a bit too much. Older fans will recall that Bing Crosby starred in the movie as Bob Wallace. Bing was the ultimate crooner who had charisma to spare. It's difficult for any performer to measure up favorably.
Amy Bodnar, an excellent musical comedy actress, does well with Betty but the part has its limitations. As implied earlier, Lambert and O'Bryan shine as the second couple.
Finally, snow actually does arrive in Vermont, and theater patrons in the first ten or twelve rows of the orchestra receive a sprinkling (no, the flakes are not real). In the end, only Scrooge would feel affronted by and with the spirit of this musical. In terms of needs of the genre, White Christmas is fulfilling. Berlin's music and lyrics stand time's test. The book, written by David Ives and Paul Blake, weaves in requisite romance and the evening has its comic moments. Ruth Williamson, as Martha, is highly amusing and she gets the best lines. Further, her timing is precise. Toss in some up-tempo production numbers, too. Those anticipating the festive holiday season, will, without question, stand at the final curtain. A certain minority will not be quite so enthralled.
White Christmas continues at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through November 21st. For ticket information, call (860) 987-5900 or visit www.bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.whitechristmasthemusical.com.
- Fred Sokol