Writing for Us
A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Where did you learn to sing like that? — Susan
Sweetheart, you don't learn it, you're born with it. —Martha
There is a big dose of nostalgia awaiting you at the Paper Mill Playhouse with Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a melody and dance-saturated musical based on two films: the black and white Holiday Inn (1942) and its glitzier Technicolor 1954 remake White Christmas. The former starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and the latter teamed Crosby with Danny Kaye. What is hard to fathom, let alone explain, is how this same show which played on Broadway during the 2008 and 2009 holiday seasons is ten times better, fresher, and more entertaining now than it was on Broadway. As I did not see the 2009 version, I cannot attest to whether there were significant changes made from the previous year in a show I considered to be quite mediocre in the extreme.
From left to right: Jill Paice (Betty Haynes) and Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes)
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
What happened? It has the same book by David Ives and Paul Blake. The production team once again includes director Marc Bruni, choreographer Randy Skinner, set designer Anna Louizos, costume designer Carrie Robbins, and lighting designer Ken Billington, as well as having the two leading men and two of the major supporting players from the 2009 Broadway production. By magic it appears that this show has morphed into a totally grand entertainment, unless it is simply that Bruni has done a better job in pulling all the corn, cliches and 1950s crinoline together than did original director.
If the plot still creaks as it did in 1942 and more so in 1954, you should know that it involves two entertainers who served in the same regiment during World War II and now, with the help of a sister act come to the rescue of their former, now retired, army General (Edward James Hyland) who is on the verge of losing his inn in Vermont. It then segues into the old c'mon-kids-lets-put-on-a-show-in-the-old-barn routine with the brilliantly talented ensemble perfecting complicated dance routines all the while lavish scenery is erected and stunning costumes are being designed. You know, just like in real life.
This production is given a decided boost by having Lorna Luft shake the rafters of the inn as its loveable loud-mouth concierge Martha, the role she played in London in 2006. But there's more than just Luft lifting the decibel level with "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," and other songs in which you can hear coming from her the unmistakable shades of her mother Judy Garland's voice.
It was a good move to bring James Clow and Tony Yazbeck as the two principal song and dance men. Clow is excellent as Bob Wallace, the role originated by Crosby and demonstrates he can croon oldies like "Blue Skies" and "Count Your Blessings" with the kind of disarming charm that make you wish. . .no point in wishing.
Yazbeck is terrific as Bob's partner Phil Davis. A superb hoofer with an ingratiating personality, Yazbeck was one of the more recent Billy Flynns in the long-running Chicago, and terrific enough to earn an Outer Critics Circle nomination for his outstanding performance as Tulsa in the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy. Yazbeck wows us over and over with his virtuosic Astaire-ish moves in the "I Love a Piano," an eight-minute tap number shared with the lovely and gifted Meredith Patterson, who plays his love interest Judy Haynes.
Love waits a while before it grips hold of Judy's sister Betty (Jill Paice) and the resistant Bob, but when it does with a medley of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" and "How Deep is the Ocean," it is memorable. There are no complaints as they sing and dance together in a posh nightclub with the Manhattan skyline aglow in the background.
Yazbeck and Clow have really zeroed in on the kind of partnering and stylized bonding that will be instantly familiar to those who remember vaudeville, particularly in "Happy Holidays" and "Let Yourself Go," that they perform with a joyous exuberance in a scene as guests on Ed Sullivan's TV show.
Edward James Hyland is splendid as the retired General Henry Waverly. Andie Mechanic is absolutely adorable as Susan his showbiz-smitten granddaughter who brings down the house singing a reprise of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" to comply with the traditional eleven-o-clock number. It also brought down the obligatory blizzard, during which the snow not only fell on the performers, but also on the audience that needed very little encouragement by then to join the cast in singing "White Christmas." This is what is known as perfect family entertainment.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas|
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Directed by Marc Bruni
Cast of Principals: Peter Reardon (Ralph Sheldrake), James Clow (Bob Wallace), Tony Yazbeck (Phil Davis), Edward James Hyland (General Henry Waverly), Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes), Jill Paice (Betty Haynes), Martha Watson (Lorna Luft), Andie Mechanic (Susan Waverly)
Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
Costume Design: Carrie Robbins
Lighting Design: Ken Billington
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Music Director: Steven Freeman
Choreography: Randy Skinner
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
(973) 376 – 4343
Tickets ($25.00 - $96.00)
Performances: Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 PM; Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM.
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/20/11
Act OneHappy Holiday / Bob Wallace and Phil DavisWhite Christmas /Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Ralph Sheldrake and EnsembleLet Yourself Go / Bob Wallace, Phil Davis and EnsembleLove and the Weather / Bob Wallace and Betty HaynesSisters / Betty Haynes and Judy Haynes
The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing / Phil Davis, Judy Haynes and Quintet MemberSnow / Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Betty Haynes, Judy Haynes, Mr. Snoring Man, Mrs. Snoring Man and Ensemble
What Can You Do With a General? /Martha Watson, Bob Wallace and Phil DavisLet Me Sing and I'm Happy / Martha Watson and EnsembleCount Your Blessings Instead of Sheep /Bob Wallace and Betty HaynesBlue Skies / Bob Wallace and Ensemble
Preceded by White Christmas sung by Ralph sheldrake
- >I Love a Piano / Phil Davis, Judy Haynes and Ensemble
Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun / Martha Watson, Betty Haynes and Judy Haynes
Sisters (Reprise) / Bob Wallace and Phil Davis
Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me/How Deep Is the Ocean / Betty Haynes and Bob Wallace
We'll Follow the Old Man / Bob Wallace and Male Ensemble
Let Me Sing and I'm Happy (Reprise) /Susan Waverly
How Deep Is the Ocean (Reprise) / Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes
We'll Follow the Old Man (Reprise) /Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Ralph Sheldrake and Male Ensemble
White Christmas (Reprise) /Bob Wallace and Company
I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm / Full Company
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