At the Cadillac Palace Theatre
By Dan Zeff
Chicago–In 1954, Hollywood made a holiday-oriented motion picture named “White Christmas” that starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye and featured the music of Irving Berlin. The film became a Christmastime staple and in 2000 a stage adaptation premiered in St. Louis.
Since 2000, “White Christmas,” relabeled “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” presumably to give the show more box office cachet, has become a popular Yuletide live attraction on the road, in regional theaters, and even two brief runs on Broadway. The show is playing a brief one-week run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago’s Loop. Coincidentally it is also being presented at the Theater at the Center in suburban Munster, Indiana. So “White Christmas” is now in the conversation as one of the most attended shows of the season, along with “A Christmas Carol,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “The Nutcracker.”
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is built on the hits composed by Irving Berlin, headed, of course, by “White Christmas.” The Berlin hits are hung like Christmas tree lights on a lame story that starts in 1944 and leaps ahead to 1954. Just to get the narrative out of the way, it can be summarized thusly:
At the end of World War II, an American army general retires to run a winter resort in Vermont. After a snow drought threatens to drive tourists away and bankrupt the resort, two soldiers who served under the general come to the old man’s rescue. The ex GIs conveniently have become a top American song and dance team and decide to bring their musical revue to the general’s doorstep in time to save the day, sort of like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland would have done 20 years earlier. Along the way, the two entertainers cross paths with a pair of female singer dancers. Spoiler alert: The two men and the two women, after the usual romantic bumps in the road, fall in love.
The dual love stories are predictable and the book’s attempts at humor are beneath elementary. The production’s success or lack thereof resides with the musical numbers. This is basically a singing and dancing vehicle with plenty of opportunity to seduce the audience with the title song and other Berlin gems like “Happy Holiday,” “Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep,” “Blue Skies,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”
Curiously, the score is filled out with a bunch of numbers that don’t rate as high on the Irving Berlin hit parade, leaving loads of classic numbers on the cutting room floor. Wherefore are “A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” “Always,” and at least a dozen others with more right to strut their stuff on the stage? All are more deserving than tunes like “Love You Didn’t Do right By Me” and “Falling Out of Love Can be Fun.”
The touring company has a large cast (27 performers portrayed in the playbill) and they are given lots of dances to execute. But the choreography is run of the mill and familiar. The scenic effects are restricted by the limitations of a traveling show but the costumes are colorful and abundant. The one dance number that stops the show is the massed tap-dance “I Love a Piano,” featuring Kelly Sheehan and Jeremy Benton, half of the two couples who fall in love in time for the “White Christmas” finale. The other two co-stars are David Elder and Kerry Conte. All four seem to have impressing hoofing and singing chops. They just need a more creative platform.
There is one notable bit of casting in the production. The role of Martha Watson, the resort’s wisecracking general factotum, is played by Lorna Luft, who happens to be the daughter of the late Judy Garland. Luft has a large stage presence enhanced by her Ethel Mermanesque singing voice and in your face comic style. Luft was clearly, and justifiably, the audience favorite of the evening. The audience also got a kick out of Kyla Carter as the army general’s early teenage granddaughter. The kid has spunk and talent and just needs to project a bit more.
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is by no means a major musical, but it’s a nice audience show for viewers who enjoy some good songs set in a nostalgic 1950’s atmosphere, a younger and at least outwardly more content America. But the production needs more spectacle, more innovative choreography, a raise in the comedy IQ of the book, and some really blockbuster singing voices.
The show does end on an uptick, harnessing a large dollop of sentimentality to a colorful finale (garnished with actual snowflakes pouring from the rafters), and, of course, a sing-along “White Christmas.” The last 15 minutes are cozy and tuneful, and tolerant spectators should leave the theater feeling good about that they have just seen. There was a sprinkle of children in the opening night audience, all of whom were attentive, or at least quiet, always a compliment to an adult performance.
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”gets a rating of
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” runs through December 15 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph Street. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 to $110. Call 800 775 2000 or visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. December 2019
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