Theater Review: White Christmas’ returns to VermontBy Jim LowePhoto by Rob Strong
A dance scene from Northern Stage’s “White Christmas” features (from left) Kate Melodia, Brad Bradley (Phil), Beth Ann Baker, Chloe Tiso, Katerina Papacostas (Judy) and Rachel Brawley
Irving Berlin’s frothy charmer “White Christmas” has been emblematic of an American Christmas since the hit film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye premiered in 1954. And, of course, it’s a Vermont Christmas.
Northern Stage opened a delightful production of the 2004 stage adaptation by David Ives and Paul Blake that, despite the lack of Crosby and Kaye, delivered the spirit of the original.
“White Christmas” is best known as the title song for the film, which Berlin wrote much earlier, in 1940. Crosby delivered its first performance on his NBC Radio Show, “The Kraft Music Hall,” on Christmas day in 1941. His recording of the song, according to the Guiness Book of World Records, became the best-selling single of all time, with sales in excess of 50 million worldwide. (Cosby also sang the song in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.”)
As the show (and the film) begins on Christmas Eve, 1944, Army buddies Bob Wallace (Crosby in the film), a Broadway entertainer, and Phil Davis (Kaye), are giving a show to the troops of the 151st Division. Overshadowing the joy of the holiday is the announcement that their beloved commander, Gen. Waverly, is being relieved of the command.
Fast forward to the 1950s, Bob and Phil are Broadway stars. Just before heading to Miami at Christmastime to rehearse their new show, Phil convinces Bob to audition two performers recommended by an army buddy, the Haynes “sisters.” Phil is immediately smitten with Judy, but the confirmed bachelor Bob and the more straight-laced Betty nearly come to blows.
Still, Bob offers the two a place in his new show, but they can’t because they are contracted to play a holiday show at an obscure inn in Pine Tree, Vt. Sensing something percolating between Bob and Betty, Phil and Judy hoodwink Bob onto the train to Vermont.
The inn, it turns out, is owned by Gen. Waverly and about to go under. From here, the action goes the way of all musical comedies — except that in the hands of the great composer-lyricist Irving Berlin it becomes a joy.
The Northern Stage production, directed by Carol Dunne, Northern Stage’s artistic director, proved largely successful. Alex Syiek and Stacie Bono were well cast as the leads, Bob and Betty, fine actors, but musically somewhat of a disappointment.
Syiek owns a beautiful mellow baritone voice but his delivery was clumsy, marring Berlin’s wonderful lyricism. Bono is an excellent singer, but her overdone delivery was more appropriate for the dramatic Andrew Lloyd Webber than the gentle Berlin.
Conversely, the supporting team nearly stole the show. Katerina Papacostas and Brad Bradley as Judy and Phil sang and danced with skill, personality and flair. And they made their characters terribly funny as well as sympathetic.
The production also benefited from one actor who just cannot help being funny. Scott Cote was a riot as the sleazy producer Ralph Sheldrake, and absolutely priceless as the hick Vermont stagehand. Susann Fletcher, as the inn’s housekeeper, is cut out of the same comic cloth, but proved be a powerful singer as well.
TV star Kenneth Kimmins was his inimitable self as Gen. Waverly, while Lyme, N.H. seventh-grader Margaret Finley, eschewing precociousness, proved most entertaining as the general’s sly granddaughter Susan. The remainder of the cast was song-and-dance pros.
Andrea Grody, the production’s music director, led an able pit band. The simple barn-like set by Jordan Janota, lighting by Brian Jones and colorful costumes by Evan Prizant added to the production’s polish.
Northern Stage’s “White Christmas” is simply good frothy holiday entertainment.
Northern Stage presents Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” a stage musical adapted from the film, Dec. 4-17 at Briggs Opera House, 4 S. Main St. in White River Junction. Performances are most evenings at 7:30 p.m., plus many 2 p.m. matinees throughout the holiday season. For tickets or information, call 296-7000, or go online to www.northernstage.org.
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