WHITE CHRISTMAS IS TAP DANCING FUN - WE ARE TRANSPORTED BACK TO THAT BARN IN VERMONT WITH MEMORIES OF DANNY KAYE AND BING CROSBY
"Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS" is back for the holidays. It first pre premiered here in San Francisco at the Curran Theatre in 2004 and then went on to NY and Broadway in November 2008, closing just after New Year's, because, unlike a holiday fruitcake, the show has a short shelf life. It's hard to sell sleigh rides and silver bells to fans after January. SHN has brought back the classic christmas card to close your 2016 theatre season. It is now on stage only til Dec 24 at the Golden Gate Theatre. WHITE CHRISTMAS features Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin with Book by David Ives and Paul Blake and is based on the Paramount Pictures film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. This company is directed and choreographed by the capable Randy Skinner, and local favorite music director Michael Horsley, who spent many years in the hills of Oakland Calif bringing wonderful music to Woodminster Summer Theatre.
The concept is irresistible: Take one of the most beloved holiday movies of all time – 1954's "White Christmas," starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as song-and-dance team Wallace and Davis – and transform it into a live musical confection ornamented with Berlin hits from other films. Wednesday opening night was a full house of eager fans of the music and times of the 50’s post war America. WHITE CHRISTMAS is the perfect holiday Christmas card with snow, elves, holiday tree’s and snappy “let's do a show” lines. What Grinch doesn't want to see Betty and Judy Haynes croon Berlin's apple pie to sibling rivalry, "Sisters," as they peek-a-boo with ostrich-feathers? Crosby and Kaye famously made the song an icon for “show people musicals”.
Sean Montgomery and Jeremy Benton, two broadway pro’s, play Wallace and Davis and open the show with the rousing “Happy Holidays” with a “White Christmas” mix. It sets the tone for the two hour 30 min musical. And there is no skipping the lovely, Oscar-nominated ballad "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep". And of course the thrilling all-hands-on-deck tap numbers choreographed by director Skinner who is remembered for his terrific "42nd Street".
The duo teams up with the pair of singing Haynes sisters played by the delightful Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan. The two end up helping their former army general, (Conrad John Schuck) now a Vermont innkeeper, avoid losing the lease by putting on a show in his spacious barn. Along the way, of course, romances heat up between the headliners while familiar showbiz types rehearse and perform. “Love and Weather” is memorable by Montgomery and Conte, it is fun and moves the story.
The show is definitely retro to the immediate post WWII era, with many period names dropped and a lot of action set on trains, early TV (Ed Sullivan show) or in nightclubs. It unashamedly includes some rather stereotypical shtick characterizations that rely on the audience’s willingness to jump on board for a ride in a theatrical time machine.
A large onstage ensemble backs Berlin’s great music along with the comedy and dance performed by seasoned soloists. With the support of a lively, elegant orchestra pit, colorful costuming, detailed sets and surprise special effects, it all leads to a fun couple of hours at the Golden Gate theater. The creative team includes a gorgeous set and scenic design by Anna Louizos, scenic supervision and adaptation by Kenneth Foy, lighting design by Ken Billington, and sound design by Keith Caggiano.
Montgomery and Benton both take full advantage of their moments in solo and duet numbers. They share the spotlight with perfect timing in their version of “Sisters” followed by the ever-popular “The Best Things Happen While You are Dancing”. Montgomery established his role as the more serious yet shy fellow and had his best moments on such thoughtful pieces as “Count Your Blessings” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” He does, however, cut loose with white-jacketed dancers all around on a over-the-top setting for the sizzling tune “Blue Skies.”
There's a touch of Judy and Mickey, “let's do a show in the barn” in this story with the fact that Garland's daughter, the marvelous Lorna Luft, steals the show as Martha Watson, the wisecracking hotel manager and side kick to the General. She stops the show two times with both her solo’s “Let Me SIng and I’m Happy” and “Falling out of Love Can Be Fun”. Luft brings energy to the show that at times is so predictable yet she high kicks her way in the hearts of the audience with that Ethel Merman jazz and the high class of her mom Judy Garland. The musical should be the theatrical equivalent of a home run hit, a show that has fans humming the indelible melodies as they float out of the Golden Gate and onto Market street. But the chemistry-free production can be as comfortably bland as that Christmas fruit cake we never open.
“I Love a Piano” showcases Benton’s and Sheehan’s capable talents and vocals and the dance is engaging ballroom and classic tap. The youngster, Samantha Penny, seemed a bit old for the role but shined in a couple of scenes as the General’s granddaughter. Aaron Galligan-Stierle earned laughs as an ever frantic stage manager. Veteran actor, Conrad John Schuck, (Broadways Daddy Warbucks, and a regular on “McMillian & Wife”) was sturdy as the general while the lovely Kristyn Pope and Elish Conlon, as flirtatious show girls sparkle, and Frank Ridley, as a laconic hayseed, made the most of their throwback roles.
Skinner packs the stage with flashy dancing, bringing back the golden years of Hollywood, aided by the glitzy period costumes by Carrie Robbins. It’s all in fun, the story follows the “Let’s do a show to save the boss” element of the original film. I’m not a fan of stories that require everyone to not speak to each other in order to maintain drama--classic sit com 50’s Hollywood bubble gum scripts. But Crosby and Kaye were the best at these Hollywood “show people” films. However, that old shtick more than made up for by lovely singing on more than 15 numbers, with Irving Berlin delights “White Christmas,” “Sisters,” “The Old Man” and “Blue Skies.”
Do Betty and Bob kiss in the end or does snow finally fall in Vermont. Even if you’ve never seen “White Christmas,” I bet you can guess the answer. Fortunately, predictability doesn’t harm the entertainment. WHITE CHRISTMAS is like those Shiny Brite Christmas ornaments: colorful, sparkly and fun, with a nostalgic retro vibe. This touring production follows the arc of the 1954 movie musical with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye with minor tweaks to plot details. And snow falling inside the Golden Gate House is as magical as ever and you will leave this show humming the songs as you enter your holiday weekend. Look for FINDING NEVERLAND to open in the new year at SHN - and cheers to those of you who scored your shot to see HAMILTON. And of course SHN offers $40.00 rush seats for this run, just be at the box office two hours before show time - with cash - two tickets per customer. Merry Christmas.
SHN and Work Light Productions Present
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Based on the Paramount Pictures film
written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank.
Directed and Choreographed by
Music Director Michael Horsley
Through Dec 24th
Tue through Fri at 7:30pm Wed at 2pm
Sat and Sun at Noon & 5:30pm
Added Perfs: Thu 12/22 and Fri 12/23 at 2pm
No Perf: Thu 12/22 at 7:30pm
SHN GOLDEN GATE THEATRE
1 Taylor St. at Golden Gate Ave. SF
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Photos by: JEREMY DANIEL
A VINTAGE CLIP WITH DANNY KAYE AND BING CROSBY