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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
White Christmas

Where did you learn to sing like that? — Susan
Sweetheart, you don't learn it, you're born with it. —Martha
White Christmas
From left to right: Jill Paice (Betty Haynes) and Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes)
(Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
There is a big dose of nostalgia awaiting you at the Paper Mill Playhouse with Irving Berlin's White Christmas, a melody and dance-saturated musical based on two films: the black and white Holiday Inn (1942) and its glitzier Technicolor 1954 remake White Christmas. The former starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and the latter teamed Crosby with Danny Kaye. What is hard to fathom, let alone explain, is how this same show which played on Broadway during the 2008 and 2009 holiday seasons is ten times better, fresher, and more entertaining now than it was on Broadway. As I did not see the 2009 version, I cannot attest to whether there were significant changes made from the previous year in a show I considered to be quite mediocre in the extreme.

  What happened? It has the same book by David Ives and Paul Blake. The production team once again includes director Marc Bruni, choreographer Randy Skinner, set designer Anna Louizos, costume designer Carrie Robbins, and lighting designer Ken Billington, as well as having the two leading men and two of the major supporting players from the 2009 Broadway production. By magic it appears that this show has morphed into a totally grand entertainment, unless it is simply that Bruni has done a better job in pulling all the corn, cliches and 1950s crinoline together than did original director.

  If the plot still creaks as it did in 1942 and more so in 1954, you should know that it involves two entertainers who served in the same regiment during World War II and now, with the help of a sister act come to the rescue of their former, now retired, army General (Edward James Hyland) who is on the verge of losing his inn in Vermont. It then segues into the old c'mon-kids-lets-put-on-a-show-in-the-old-barn routine with the brilliantly talented ensemble perfecting complicated dance routines all the while lavish scenery is erected and stunning costumes are being designed. You know, just like in real life.

  This production is given a decided boost by having Lorna Luft shake the rafters of the inn as its loveable loud-mouth concierge Martha, the role she played in London in 2006. But there's more than just Luft lifting the decibel level with "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," and other songs in which you can hear coming from her the unmistakable shades of her mother Judy Garland's voice.

  It was a good move to bring James Clow and Tony Yazbeck as the two principal song and dance men. Clow is excellent as Bob Wallace, the role originated by Crosby and demonstrates he can croon oldies like "Blue Skies" and "Count Your Blessings" with the kind of disarming charm that make you wish. . .no point in wishing.

  Yazbeck is terrific as Bob's partner Phil Davis. A superb hoofer with an ingratiating personality, Yazbeck was one of the more recent Billy Flynns in the long-running Chicago, and terrific enough to earn an Outer Critics Circle nomination for his outstanding performance as Tulsa in the Patti LuPone revival of Gypsy. Yazbeck wows us over and over with his virtuosic Astaire-ish moves in the "I Love a Piano," an eight-minute tap number shared with the lovely and gifted Meredith Patterson, who plays his love interest Judy Haynes.

  Love waits a while before it grips hold of Judy's sister Betty (Jill Paice) and the resistant Bob, but when it does with a medley of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" and "How Deep is the Ocean," it is memorable. There are no complaints as they sing and dance together in a posh nightclub with the Manhattan skyline aglow in the background.

  Yazbeck and Clow have really zeroed in on the kind of partnering and stylized bonding that will be instantly familiar to those who remember vaudeville, particularly in "Happy Holidays" and "Let Yourself Go," that they perform with a joyous exuberance in a scene as guests on Ed Sullivan's TV show.

  Edward James Hyland is splendid as the retired General Henry Waverly. Andie Mechanic is absolutely adorable as Susan his showbiz-smitten granddaughter who brings down the house singing a reprise of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" to comply with the traditional eleven-o-clock number. It also brought down the obligatory blizzard, during which the snow not only fell on the performers, but also on the audience that needed very little encouragement by then to join the cast in singing "White Christmas." This is what is known as perfect family entertainment.


Irving Berlin's White Christmas
  Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
  Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
  Directed by Marc Bruni

  Cast of Principals: Peter Reardon (Ralph Sheldrake), James Clow (Bob Wallace), Tony Yazbeck (Phil Davis), Edward James Hyland (General Henry Waverly), Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes), Jill Paice (Betty Haynes), Martha Watson (Lorna Luft), Andie Mechanic (Susan Waverly)
  Scenic Design: Anna Louizos
  Costume Design: Carrie Robbins
  Lighting Design: Ken Billington
  Sound Design: Randy Hansen
  Music Director: Steven Freeman
  Choreography: Randy Skinner
  Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
  Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
  (973) 376 – 4343
  Tickets ($25.00 - $96.00) Performances: Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 PM; Thursday, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 and 7 PM.
  From 11/16/11
  Opening: 11/20/11
  Closing: 12/24/11
  Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 11/20/11
Musical Numbers
Act One
Preceded by White Christmas sung by Ralph sheldrake
  • Happy Holiday / Bob Wallace and Phil Davis
  • White Christmas /Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Ralph Sheldrake and Ensemble
  • Let Yourself Go / Bob Wallace, Phil Davis and Ensemble
  • Love and the Weather / Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes
  • Sisters / Betty Haynes and Judy Haynes
  • The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing / Phil Davis, Judy Haynes and Quintet Member
  • Snow / Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Betty Haynes, Judy Haynes, Mr. Snoring Man, Mrs. Snoring Man and Ensemble
  • What Can You Do With a General? /Martha Watson, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis
  • Let Me Sing and I'm Happy / Martha Watson and Ensemble
  • Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep /Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes
  • Blue Skies / Bob Wallace and Ensemble
  • Act Two
    • >I Love a Piano / Phil Davis, Judy Haynes and Ensemble
    • Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun / Martha Watson, Betty Haynes and Judy Haynes
    • Sisters (Reprise) / Bob Wallace and Phil Davis
    • Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me/How Deep Is the Ocean / Betty Haynes and Bob Wallace
    • We'll Follow the Old Man / Bob Wallace and Male Ensemble
    • Let Me Sing and I'm Happy (Reprise) /Susan Waverly
    • How Deep Is the Ocean (Reprise) / Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes
    • We'll Follow the Old Man (Reprise) /Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, Ralph Sheldrake and Male Ensemble
    • White Christmas (Reprise) /Bob Wallace and Company
    • I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm / Full Company
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