REVIEW: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (BroadwayChicago)

        
        

Irving Berlin holiday classic receives rich, nostalgic production

        
        

Finale of Irving Berlin White Christmas

  
Broadway in Chicago and Broadway Across America presents
 
   
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
  
Written by David Ives and Paul Blake
Music by Irving Berlin
Directed by Norb Joerder
at Bank of America Theatre, 18 W. Monroe (map)
through Jan 2  |  tickets: $25-$98  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Inspired by the 1954 film that itself builds on the 1944 delight “Holiday Inn” (which premiered the title song), Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is unashamedly old-fashioned, aggressively nostalgic, and filled with postwar optimism. How can it not be when the Irving Berlin classic with which it begins and ends is now a essential part of the holiday DNA for most Americans? The production values are vintage too—terrific tap dancing, go-for-broke jubilee choreography, cornball humor, goofy plotting, period-Megan Jimenez, Shannon M. O'Bryan, Denis Lambert, Amanda Paulson – White Christmasperfect costumes from the Eisenhower era, and lots of pretty scene changes. (Who says Broadway shows don’t have scenery anymore? This one packs a thousand glorious illusions passing as set pieces.) This blast from the past is a winter storm we can savor.

Strictly by-the-numbers and comfortably contrived, the plot involves Wallace and Davis, a vaudeville team looking for a new act, who join forces with Betty and Judy Haynes, a sisters duo, to help the guys’ former general draw crowds to his Vermont ski lodge and barn when the winter season is threatened by a total lack of snowfall. It’s serendipity on cue. Of course, all kinds of clever confusion arises over whether the boys will end up in Florida or rehearse their new Broadway show in New England, then whether that inn will be sold to a corporation and, of course, whether each sister will dutifully fall for the vaudeville hoofer of her choice.

It’s all an excuse for such Berlin gems as “Blue Skies” (performed with a bit too much jazzy syncopation for my taste), “I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean?” and, of course, the inexhaustibly evocative title number. They’re a showcase for John Scherer and Denis Lambert as the happy hoofers who fall hard or soft for Amy Bodnar and Shannon M. O’Bryan as the sisters who sing “Sisters.” Everything you loved in the movie you can savor here in three dimensions.

     
Lambert, O'Bryan, Williamson, Peeples with Showgirls - Irving Berlin White Christmas Blue Skies from Irving Berlin White Christmas

Ruth Williamson, as the hard-boiled, Broadway brassy inn manager, combines Thelma Ritter and Alice Ghostley as she peps up every scene with deadpan wisecracks. Erick Devine is lovably crusty as General Waverley (even though the plot goes haywire near the end as he returns to the Army, then reenters retirement for reasons that aren’t worth a second thought). Eleven-year-old Mary Peeples is a perky moppet who was born to play Annie as well as the general’s Shirley Temple-cute granddaughter and will steal a show, if not a scene, if she’s not watched carefully.

The 17-member ensemble resemble so many perpetual-motion machines, singing and dancing their own beautiful blizzard in this Currier and Ives vision of Vermont. (The whole show is like a series of life-size Christmas cards singing enchanting melodies.) The lesser-known Berlin numbers may not be undeservedly neglected but the surefire hits from this totally American composer are absolutely irresistible. This Christmas confection can more than hold its own with A Christmas Carol  (our review ★★★½) and The Nutcracker (review ★★★★), just a few blocks away.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  
Bardner and O'Bryan - from Irving Berlin White Christmas 1944 Christmas Eve Show (2) Irving Berlin White Christmas
Let Me Sing and I'm Happy - Irving Berlin White Christmas Martha Watson and Gen Henry Waverly in snow - Irving Berlin White Christmas Devine as General Henry Waverly - Irving Berlin White Christmas
On the Train to Vermont - Irving Berlin White Christmas

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Wednesday Wordplay: Mary Tyler Moore and Oscar Wilde

mary-tyler-moore

 

Having a dream is what keeps you alive. Overcoming the challenges make life worth living.
           
Mary Tyler Moore

 

 

The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You’ve got to keep on working that talent. Someday I’ll reach for it and it won’t be there.
            — Irving Berlin, 1958

There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.
            — Edith Wharton, Vesalius in Zante

 

Oscar Wilde

Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.
           
Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

 

Art is the desire of a man to express himself, to record the reactions of his personality to the world he lives in.
            — Amy Lowell

For myself I am an optimist – it does not seem to be much use being anything else.
            — Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Mayor’s banquet speech, 1954

 

diane-houston 

Only some people get what they want. Those are the people who show up to get it.
            — Dianne Houston, Take The Lead, 2006

Intimacy is being seen and known as the person you truly are.
            — Amy Bloom

May I never miss a sunset or a rainbow because I am looking down.
            —
Sara June Parker

 

george-burns

I’d rather be a failure at something I love than a success at something I hate.
            — George Burns

 

 

   
   

Wednesday Wordplay: Writer’s Crap and Irving Berlin

Urban Dictionary

Writer’s Crap

Derived from ‘writer’s cramp’, writer’s crap refers to a stage when one is only capable of writing utter crap.

‘That story was horrible, i think she’s got a bad case of writer’s crap.

 

Quotations

The toughest thing about success is that you’ve got to keep on being a success. Talent is only a starting point in this business. You’ve got to keep on working that talent. Someday I’ll reach for it and it won’t be there.
            — Irving Berlin, 1958

[Medicine is] a collection of uncertain prescriptions the results of which, taken collectively, are more fatal than useful to mankind.
            — Napoleon Bonaparte

The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out the conservative adopts them.
            — Mark Twain, Notebook, 1935