Monday, November 24, 2008

Irving Berlin's White Christmas


Adapted from the movie by David Ives and Paul Blake. Dir. Walter Bobbie. Marquis Theatre. (CLOSED)

This adaptation of the 1954 Bing Crosby musical film has been bus-and-trucking around the country for eight years, and its arrival on Broadway has not received a chorus of hallelujahs. A fair number of critics are reasonably charmed, particularly by the catalogue of Berlin standards and big production numbers, but the tone of most reviews ranges from ho-hum to humbug.

New Yorker A
Walter Bobbie has done a fine job staging this adaptation of the 1954 movie, which bequeathed us such songs as “Sisters” and “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” A pair of vaudeville performers (Stephen Bogardus and Jeffry Denman, standing in for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) join a pair of dames (Kerry O’Malley and Meredith Patterson) and put on a big show in a cozy Vermont inn. The sets, the costumes, the dreaded Christmas cheer—it’s all done with class, commitment, and just the tiniest degree of self-awareness; your saccharine meter may not go off once. The cast is better than it needs to be, and the snow, when it comes, is like manna from the god of schmaltz.

Theatermania A-
(David Finkle) One could mark down Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the pleasant diversion now arriving at the Marriott Marquis after years on the road in various productions, as the town's latest jukebox musical...The play—facilitated with comforting ease by director Walter Bobbie—isn't the thing here. Berlin's genius is; and anyone who wants to maintain that the title number is the best popular song ever written will prompt no argument from me. The many gold-plated ditties get the absolute right bold and brash treatment from choreographer Randy Skinner, the current go-to guy for tap routines...While no weatherman can truly promise a white Christmas, this show does deliver its promise of a merry and bright one to audiences.

AM New York A-
(Matt Windman) As far as holiday entertainment goes, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas easily wins our vote for the most professional and crowd-pleasing show in an overstuffed genre...Stylishly directed by Walter Bobbie...The show’s other main asset is the fabulous tap-dance and ballroom choreography of Randy Skinner, paying homage to the movie musicals of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Busby Berkeley and Gene Kelly. Stephen Bogardus, playing the lead role of Bob Wallace, displays matinee idol looks and genuine charm. Also excellent are Kerry O’Malley, Jeffry Denman and Meredith Patterson.

The Daily News B+
(Joe Dziemianowicz) As Broadway musicals go, it's a little creaky. But as a holiday entertainment, it's light and bright and boasts some great production numbers..."Blue Skies," whose optimism is just what we need these days, and "I Love a Piano" are two more bouncy additions from the Berlin songbook. They help drive the story along, and Randy Skinner's tap-happy dances turn them into exuberant highlights. Everything comes together on "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," as what's on stage calls to mind a Currier and Ives holiday card come to life — snow included.

Wall St. Journal B+
(Terry Teachout) I don't want to claim more for Irving Berlin's White Christmas than it deserves. Except for the score, it's nothing more than an expensive applause machine, and if it touches you, then you're a soft touch. Nevertheless, I don't see how anyone who loves Broadway musicals can fail to be pleased by so polished and ingenious a show. Synthetic jukebox musicals are hardly my thing, but this is the smartest one to hit Broadway since "Crazy for You." Take it for what it is and you'll go home happy.

Talkin' Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) Short of world peace, it’s hard to imagine a more bountiful fulfillment of your grandest yuletide wishes than Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, which just opened at the Marquis: a tuneful, two-and-a-half-hour vacation to 1954...It may be black-ice slick, but it judiciously compensates for much of what it so severely lacks with suitably old-fashioned components that only the grinchiest scrooge will be able to resist. The treasure trove of timeless Berlin tunes helps immeasurably.

Bloomberg News B
(John Simon) It cannot quite make up its mind whether to cheekily parody the mildly idiotic movie, or sweetly swoon over its antique innocence...You might think that great songs can salvage anything, but many of the songs here are lesser Berlin. Still, there are those marvelously evocative Louizos sets and dazzlingly outrageous Robbins costumes for us to feast on. And Skinner’s clever dances, which, with far more limited personnel, still manage to lustily evoke the grandeur of Busby Berkeley and glory of Hermes Pan. Walter Bobbie’s staging, like Ken Billington’s lighting, also suits the material.

American Theatre Web C+
(Andy Propst) Despite Berlin's always glorious songs, some first-rate orchestrations from Larry Blank and beyond terrific dance arrangements from Bruce Pomahac, and several incredibly appealing performances, White Christmas has the decided feel of a snowfall that's been on the ground for a day or two...It's charming old-fashioned stuff, but in this lumbering production, directed by Walter Bobbie, it feels sort of slushy...Despite the sluggish staging, audiences find themselves transported...from time to time.

Newsday C+
(Linda Winer) White Christmas is a reasonable facsimile of what it's meant to be—a manipulation of the sentimental holiday marketplace that does not disturb the seasonal equilibrium with a bubble of original thought...Randy Skinner's choreography combines exuberant ballroom dance and his tap from the revival of 42nd Street. Ever-changing sets by Anna Louizos neatly take us from an Army camp to a train and a barn theater. But the orchestra sounds tinny and the production cries out for a smaller theater or a bigger chorus. Ask Santa for that next year.

Backstage C+
(David Sheward) What saved all those lightweight movie musicals were the charismatic personalities of the stars and the dazzling production numbers. It would be unfair to compare these leads to their stellar predecessors, but three of the four fail to establish a vibrant personality...Only Kerry O'Malley fully commits to her role...She takes the flimsy threads of the story and weaves a complete through-line.

The New York Times C
(Charles Isherwood) You’d have to be in a desperately, even pathologically nostalgic mood—trawling the Internet in the wee hours for VHS copies of Lawrence Welk holiday specials, say—to derive much joy from the stage retread of White Christmas, a synthetically cozy trip down memory lane...
Certainly the Berlin songs are sweet to hear, in nicely varied arrangements by Larry Blank. Mr. Skinner’s choreography does not dazzle with originality, but a stage-filling approximation of period style is all that’s required.

Variety C
(David Rooney) This somewhat mechanical show feels like a road production staffed with mostly second-tier talent. More seasonal confection than full-bodied musical theater, it coasts along on the strength of its melodious numbers and sparkling visuals, which should suffice to keep the tourist trade happy...This kind of frothy, populous presentation may floor them in the hinterlands, but New York theatergoers can see more accomplished ensembles in five-night Encores! runs.

Associated Press C
(Michael Kuchwara) The festivities are muted and mild in Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a lavish, yet surprisingly bland stage adaptation of the popular 1954 movie...Much of the blame can be placed on the perfunctory book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Their effort is pretty much joke- and drama-free...Berlin's tunes are joyous creations, but the musical pleasures here exist in isolated moments, not as part of a dizzy, satisfying theatrical whole. You can tell the show has been cobbled together by committee and not exactly from the heart.

The Record C
(Robert Feldberg) It's puzzlingly faithful to the tedious film plot, and, for good measure, has the lamest jokes heard in a long, long time. If you can tolerate the talking part, the show...has a number of pleasant musical numbers built around Irving Berlin songs...White Christmas does its job. But no more than that.

USA Today C-
(Elysa Gardner) It ought to have an audience advisory—for diabetics. In fact, anyone susceptible to sugar shock should think twice before digging into this bowl of holiday treacle...What this stage version does not have, obviously, is the cast that made the original White Christmas an enduring favorite. It's unfair to compare any singing actor to Bing Crosby, but in this case, it's impossible not to. Stephen Bogardus brings undeniable grace and charm to the role of Bob Wallace, but he can't overcome the thinness of the libretto and the slickness of Walter Bobbie's direction.

NY Observer C-
(John Heilpern) So primly, blandly sincere that it’s like watching The Lawrence Welk Show...With a score that includes Berlin’s “Let Yourself Go,” “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano”—not to mention “White Christmas,” with its undertow of melancholy—this musical ought to be just like the ones we used to know...Unfortunately, the show lacks authentic vitality—call it the pizzazz and star quality and magic that, well, Irving Berlin had in spades.

New York Post D+
(Frank Scheck) I'm a sucker for Christmas...So it's more than a little disappointing that the Broadway production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas is so lacking in genuine Yuletide spirit. Looking to this would-be seasonal perennial for holiday cheer is like trying to get warm while watching the "Yule Log" on TV...The main strength of director Walter Bobbie's fast-paced staging is the terrific musical numbers featuring Randy Skinner's rousing tap-heavy choreography..

Village Voice D+
(Michael Feingold) Any charm that lay in the original screenplay has been carefully bleached out, leaving an incoherent story so dully told that its only arresting moment occurs when you spot the name "David Ives" among the writer credits, making you wonder if the author of All in the Timing has been kidnapped by space aliens...Why does each of choreographer Randy Skinner's tap numbers look just like all the others?...Who, in a musical theater full of delightful performers, cast the drab second-rankers who play the supporting roles? Why do the characters dress for Fifth Avenue, or a Hawaiian vacation, when they're rehearsing in a barn in Vermont? Why does each new set look more like a discount-store Christmas card?...The only artist who comes off without reproach is the dead one whose name has been nailed to the title.

Theatre News Online D
(Sandy MacDonald) Pop the shiny bubble that is Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and what remains is mostly stale air...The book, adapted by David Ives and Paul Blake from the original screenplay, is tissue-thin, as are the characterizations...Not to be unkind, but you'd have to be over eighty (part of the Lawrence Welk generation) or under eight to find much fascination here.

Time Out NY D
(David Cote) In place of real human emotion there are ersatz, robotic gestures; rather than peace and goodwill there’s a callow, promilitary stance; in place of charity and modesty, there’s gaudiness and greed...A sub-Vegas attraction that has you pining for the Grinch...Even the fake snow is fake in a gross way: During the finale, some tech fiends dust the audience with wintry powder. Upon inspection, the snowflakes appear to be some chemical confection akin to chilled shampoo. Ick. It melts, but your heart won’t.

The Journal News F+
(Jacques Le Sourd) By all means, buy the movie for your collection. Or rent it...Do not spend hundreds of dollars seeing this cheap and cheesy "live" version of the movie! This production, directed by Walter Bobbie, is built to travel...This production could travel in a sport utility vehicle. And it isn't weighted down with any stars you could recognize, with the possible exception of Stephen Bogardus...Everybody else onstage is, sorry to say it, a nobody...The sets (by Anna Louizos) and costumes (by Carrie Robbins) suggest the tatty Lawrence Welk Show more than the lush film.

Curtain Up F+
(Simon Saltzman) Listless and grievously miscast...It has the look of a road-show specifically designed (the settings by Anna Louizos are mercifully not nearly as atrocious as are the costumes by Carrie Robbins) and hobbled together to attract unsuspecting families and gullible tourists. How sad is that?

New Yorker A 13; Theatermania A- 12; AM New York A- 12; The Wall St. Journal B+ 11; The Daily News B+ 11; Talkin' Broadway B+ 11; Bloomberg News B 10; American Theatre Web C+ 8; Newsday C+ 8; Backstage C+ 8; The New York Times C 7; Variety C 7; Associated Press C 7; The Record C 7; USA Today C- 6; NY Observer C- 6; New York Post D+ 5; Village Voice D+ 5; Theatre News Online D 4; Time Out NY D 3; The Journal News F+ 2; Curtain Up F+ 2; TOTAL: 165 / 22 = 7.5 (C/C+)

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