Thursday, December 23, 2010

'White Christmas' Flaky Fun, But Not Worth Dreaming Of -- Theater Review

Theater Review

Irving Berlin's White Christmas: The Musical
Bank of America Theatre, Chicago
Thru January 2, 2011

I have great affinity for many old movie musicals, including Singin' In the Rain, On The Town, An American In Paris, Funny Face, Gigi and Meet Me In St. Louis (and many others that came from stage musicals, like Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Brigadoon and West Side Story).

But I have never seen 1954's White Christmas, and except for the title song--actually written by Irving Berlin and made famous by Bing Crosby years before the movie--and "Happy Holiday," I haven't knowingly heard any of the songs that were contained within the film.

So unlike a good portion of the full house at Tuesday night's performance of a Broadway-level production of the stage musical initially hatched in 2004, I didn't enter the Bank of America Theatre with any sense of nostalgia nor inherent affection. Although I couldn't help but have "dreaming of a White Christmas" rolling around my brain, truthfully I wasn't.

I was simply there to see a show that was being presented as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription series. And I enjoyed it, but cannot say I loved it nor recommend it to anyone similarly uninitiated.

There was nothing tremendously wrong with 'White Christmas,' and much notably good. I don't know if it was a full Equity cast, but all of the leads had Broadway credits and throughout the ensemble, the singing and dancing was first-rate. Amy Bodnar as Betty Haynes and Ruth Williamson as Martha Watson were particularly fine and John Scherer handled the Bing Crosby role (Bob Wallace) with strong vocal chops.

Photo credit: Tanner Photography
Irving Berlin doesn't stand as one of history's most revered songsmiths for nothing; his handling of a tune like "Snow,"--in which passengers on a train rhapsodize about the weather--show why he was a master. I suspect if I had familiarized myself with the songs beforehand, many of them would have come off more resonant than simply sweet.

But at the end of any musical--or even in the midst--there are some that you sense are exceptional or close to it, a few you know are terrible and then others that are, well, just the others. 

Though I can see where 'White Christmas' might have great appeal for many--and it was nice to see so many families at the show--with its saccharin story, '50s dialogue that was too silly to qualify as adorably quaint and nice songs that seemed largely inconsequential, for me, it was--as I define a @@@ rating--good but not great.

Even if, to twist another Berlin lyric, "There's snow business like show business."

Happy Holidays to all.

1 comment:

G1000 said...

Not strictly related to this review, but do you have any plans to get over to Steppenwolf and see "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Truly, you should. It is phenomenal.

As for this, yeah, it doesn't look very good. But Broadway in Chicago looks like it's going to have some really great stuff next year ("Next to Normal", "Les Mis", etc...)