Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
The original 1954 movie starred the incomparable Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye along with greats Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, and it topped the box office that year. The film was adapted for the stage by bookwriters David Ives and Paul Blake, who stay true to the original story of two Army buddies, Bob Wallace (a charming David Elder) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton, delightful), who team up to create a nightclub act. They are smitten with another performing duo, the Haynes Sisters: Betty (an amazing Kerry Conte) and Judy (the talented Kelly Sheehan). Their paths take them to an inn in Vermont, which they find out is owned by Wallace and Davis' former commander officer Major General Thomas Waverly (Broadway veteran Conrad John Schuck), who is struggling to keep the inn afloat. In the good old-fashioned way, the quartet decides to put on a show to help raise money and to surprise their former leader with the proper send-off he did not get when he retired.
Irving Berlin's score has never sounded better than with Larry Blank's orchestrations and Bruce Pomahac's expert dance and vocal arrangements. Most of the classics from the film are here, along with a handful of other Berlin standards, though the omission of "Choreography" is a disappointment; that number is a personal favorite from the movie. It is a real treat to find Lorna Luft (daughter of Judy Garland and known by some as Paulette in Grease 2) in this cast. She brings down the house as the inn's receptionist Martha Watson. Her rendition of Berlin's "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" is a true holiday treat.
Under the direction of Randy Skinner (who also provides the dazzling choreography), this production shines. Mr. Skinner's staging of "Blue Skies" evokes classic Hollywood, reminding me particularly of Judy Garland's rendition of "Get Happy" from the musical film Summer Stock (another show about putting on a show in a barn). But every detail here is designed to put you in the holiday mood, from Kenneth Foy's colorful scenic design (adapted from original designer Anna Louizos) to Carrie Robbins's costumes, which capture the memory of the original film yet are uniquely her own. Ken Billington's lighting and Keith Caggiano's sound designs only add to the already beautiful story being told on the stage.
There is a lot to sing and dance about in this fresh take on a classic. Irving Berlin's White Christmas will surely put you in the mood for some snow.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 8, 2019, presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. Tickets can be purchased online at www.dpacnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787
Music and Lyrics: Irving Berlin