IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS
(This is Jerry's review of the original Arts Club production from 2009).
I didn’t know what to think about the Arts Club’s new Christmas musical. It’s a corny nostalgia trip that glorifies the US military and features, for the most part, the lesser songs of Irving Berlin and two romantic relationships with zero chemistry between the actors/lovers. But it’s so darn good-natured. And the kind of pizzazz that Bill Millerd has gotten really good at, combined with some strong voices and Valerie Easton’s usual bravura choreography, finally won me over.
It opens on a World War Two battlefield in 1944 where we meet a trio of grunts putting on a Christmas show for the troops and crusty, patriotic General Waverly (Rejean Cournoyer). Jump ahead to 1954 and the ex-GIs are now the song-and-dance team of Bob (Jeffrey Victor) and Phil (Todd Talbot) and their manager, Ralph (Mark Weatherly). They soon hook up with sister act Judy (Monique Lund) and Betty (Sara-Jeanne Hosie), and they all end up, with dancers, musicians and chorus, in a Vermont resort owned by—who else—old General Waverly. The show they put on will be a tribute to the Leader of Men they love.
There are a few good songs in each act—“Let Yourself Go,” “Blue Skies,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” (nicely done in a torchy ballad sequence by Hosie), “White Christmas” of course, and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” as the curtain call. But it’s the big choral tap-dancing production numbers that are memorable, especially “I Love a Piano,” featuring Talbot and Lund tapping up and down and atop said piano. As Martha, the manager of the General’s hotel, Susan Anderson shows off her belting voice and little Rachael Withers, as his granddaughter, gets a show-stealing musical moment. Cournoyer does a fine job making the sentimental stuff work and Weatherly, doubling as the world’s slowest stage-hand, has some funny shtick.
The best joke in the show is unusually contemporary. “You’re acting like a wife,” the General complains to Martha. “Well, I’ve had enough practice,” she replies. “We fight all the time and we never have sex.” Otherwise, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is relentlessly old-fashioned: an ideal show, I guess, for recessionary times.