Arlington — The new stage version of White Christmas, which uses the classic Irving Berlin music and lyrics from the 1954 movie of the same name, with a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake, is destined to become one of the most staged holiday shows since, well, A Christmas Story was turned into a play and then a musical.
White Christmas is much trickier to pull off, though; it’s a big dance show that harkens back to the era of classic musicals in which being a triple threat was a casting requirement. It just isn’t the same if the dancing isn’t beyond marvelous.
At Theatre Arlington, where the show ends a sold-out run this weekend, directed by Lindy Heath Davis, the dancing is—like most of the non-professional theaters around here (and many of the pro groups)—decent to pretty good, but not next-level material. Choreographer Persis Ann Forster captures the era (1940s) and ebullience of the story, but, especially in the tap numbers, the execution of it is disappointing.
Still, that’s not enough to drag down what is one of the cheeriest holiday stories you can imagine.
Quick catch-up: Bob Wallace (Jordan Pratt) and Phil Davis (Branden Loera) were the song-and-dance men in the army who entertained their fellow soldiers during World War II. After the war, they’re doing their shtick in New York, where they meet sisters Betty (Becca Brown) and Judy Haynes (Joanna Philips), following them on a train to a small town in Vermont. Cut to the part where they put on a show in a barn to save an inn owned by the boys’ former army general, Henry (Warren Spencer), but really run by salty Martha Watson (Cathy Pritchett).
Ric Dreumont Leal’s costumes and Tony Curtis’ scenic design are lovely—the whole show looks fantastic—and there are a number of standout performances, mainly Pritchett, who hits every punch line with sassy precision. Of the main four characters, Pratt and Brown have the most to work with, dramatically, and when their characters finally realize they belong together, it instills as much Christmas spirit as anything.
And then there are those magnificent songs, from “White Christmas” and “Sisters” to “Snow” and “Falling Out of Love Can be Fun.” Music director Alex Vorse and the cast do them justice. That said, Theatre Arlington uses canned music here, as they have several times lately, which has me concerned about the future of live music at a theater where it once was the norm. They even have that terrific orchestra space on the left of the audience, just sitting there musicianless.
Here's hoping they have "return to live music" on their Christmas wish-list, and that they've been nice this year.