“White Christmas” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ December 8, 2011


ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The 1954 movie musical “White Christmas” is a holiday tradition at my house.  Every Christmas Eve, the DVD starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen is the finishing touch to a festive celebration.  Irving Berlin penned the title tune in 1942 at the Arizona Biltmore.  The stage version, now at ASU Gammage through Sunday, was born in 2008 but, like the film, is only viable during the holidays.

On stage, it’s a big, splashy, and colorful extravaganza with elaborately choreographed production numbers.  There are small, inconsequential differences from the film story but the cast, while talented, misses the dynamic personalities of the four film leads.  In fact, much in the stage version seems to take on the film’s character but it lacks the sparkling pizzazz that dazzles on film.

“White Christmas” has two silly relationships between entertainer Bob Wallace, his partner, Phil Davis, and the Haynes, a sister act.  Betty links with Phil and Judy woos Bob.  Misunderstandings threaten the pairings, but get resolved resulting in two happy couples.  Throw in World War II patriotism where Phil and Bob fought under General Waverly who’s purchased a Vermont Inn run by the bossy but lovable Martha Watson.  That’s the story, one like so many others from the ‘50s.

This mundane plot frames several outstanding Irving Berlin songs that prompt the intricate and brassy musical numbers.  The songs and production numbers are what make “White Christmas;” not the limpid story.  Everyone heads to Vermont where the sisters perform a holiday gig and the guys bring their big musical entertainment to save the struggling lodge where it hasn’t snowed.  The weather finally cooperates and the show saves the Inn.  The guys call their soldier buddies who attend and several Berlin tunes, not in the film, are added.  The best production number is “I Love a Piano” but the finale featuring the title song disappoints due to its brevity and lack of grandeur.

Stephen R. Buntrock’s Bob is quite a crooner, while David Elder’s Phil dances with verve and polish.  Stefanie Morse’s Betty captures Vera-Ellen’s spunky exuberance and Shannon M. O’Bryan is a sophisticated, attractive, and poised Judy.  All four leads sing and dance well.  Best, though, is Ruth Williamson’s Martha, a spunky, opinionated, but truthful Inn manager.  She’s the only performer who outdoes the film’s Mary Wickes.  The ensemble sings and dances with dazzling style, energy, and excitement.

Flimsy sets wobble but vivid costumes instill the period look and add some visual dash.

The stage “White Christmas” entertains but less successfully than the superior film.  It earns three stars out of five.  It’s cheaper and more fun to watch the DVD.  It continues at ASU Gammage through Sunday, December 11.  For tickets, call the ASU Gammage box office at 1-800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C