Review: ‘White Christmas’ Is Merry and Bright
White Christmas, the current show at Northern Stage in White River Junction, isn’t a heat-seeking holiday missile like A Christmas Carol or A Charlie Brown Christmas, but it’s snappy good fun, a link to the days when theatergoers left smiling and humming a tune.
In fact, the Christmas finale in this show is sort of the cherry on top. Mostly, it’s an old-school romantic comedy stuffed with song and dance, a show where guys and gals meet and are instantly “crazy about each other,’’ even if they don’t know it.
This telling of the story, adapted from the 1954 movie White Christmas, is given plenty of zest under Carol Dunne’s direction. A strong cast gives it, in the spirit of the era in which it is set, their all.
It opens briefly on Christmas Eve in 1944, with soldiers putting on a makeshift holiday show as artillery fires in the distance. A crooner and his sidekick, Bob Wallace (Alex Syiek) and Phil Davis (Brad Bradley), are entertaining “the boys” when their beloved general arrives and announces he’s being shipped back to the states.
Jump forward to winter 1954, when Wallace and Davis are a big-time act about to head to Miami to prepare for their next show. Just as they are about to ship out, they get a tip, apparently from an old army buddy, to scout a sister act.
Davis and one of the sisters hit it off, but the crooner and the second sister do not. It happens that the sisters are heading to Vermont for a holiday show at an inn, so Davis tricks his pal into getting on a train heading north.
It turns out that the inn is owned by their old commander, Gen. Henry Waverly (Kenneth Kimmins), who is failing in the hospitality trade due to a certain lack of finesse. (Wake up is at 0600 hours, he declares, and calisthenics follow.) The entertainers want to repay him by putting on an even bigger holiday show.
But well before the era of climate change, tourists have scattered because of the lack of snow. The boys scheme to recruit their old army buddies to come to Vermont to the rescue. One of “the girls’’ misinterprets their plot. She flees, Wallace chases — will love prevail?
People of a certain age might have trouble pushing Bing Crosby’s dreamy version of the White Christmas title song out of their minds, but Syiek holds his own with the show’s tunes. He’s a strong singer, if not the uber-crooner that Crosby was. Bradley, as his sidekick, has rascally charm.
Katerina Papacostas as one of the sisters, Judy Haynes, dances up a storm, which calls to mind one of the strengths of the production. The small stage seems impossibly full of dancers, including a tap number that rumbles and clatters like thunder in the sky and sleet on a metal roof. Stacie Bono is likeable as the other sister, Betty Haynes, but she falls short on a big torch song number.
The music, by Irving Berlin, is of course a star of the show. White Christmas, Sisters, The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing: they’re all from a time when music had style to spare. Berlin was to music what Fred Astaire was to dance: all rhythm and glide and grace.
Watch out for Susann Fletcher, who has plenty of Broadway credits up her sleeve. She plays Martha Watson, the receptionist/gal Friday at the inn. She might look frumpy, but that just hides her moxie. When it’s her turn to do a high kick, whoo boy. Kimmins doesn’t get to show dance chops as the general, but he brings command to the role. (And the face might be familiar; he played nine years on the hit TV show Coach.)
As for the rest, the kids are cute, the “Vermontah” character gets big laughs by saying little, and the show picks up momentum like a toboggan ride.
In the end, the cast dons crimson costumes that pulse like Vegas neon and Rudolph’s red nose. It’s time to sing White Christmas, and everyone joins in. By that point in the show, you don’t doubt that the snow will arrive, as if on cue.
White Christmas is as much or more about love and loyalty as it is about the meaning of the holiday. It’s also about the meaning of theater, from a time when it seemed that the world could be set right by putting on a show.
“White Christmas” continues through New Year’s Eve. For information, call 802-296-7000, or go to northernstage.org.
Dan Mackie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.