Dallas — With less than a week to go before Christmas, there’s nothing like a bit of nostalgia to refresh the holiday joy that might have gotten lost in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Dallas Summer Musicals’ season opener Irving Berlin’s White Christmas conjures warm memories that make the season great. Based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, the musical stands strong on its own while maintaining the pleasant familiarity of the iconic movie.
Writers David Ives and Paul Blake stay true to most of the lines, although some of the story details have been changed. Unlike many screen-to-stage adaptations, this one does not try to add major plot points or overpowering subplots that take the story in another direction. Even though extra songs are added to this version (with musical direction by Michael Horsley), all are Berlin’s original compositions written for or before the film. Norb Joerder directs, and Randy Skinner choreographs.
The story follows entertainers Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (David Elder) as they transition from being WWII combat soldiers to nationally-known entertainers. As they begin to stage a new Broadway show, a meeting with sisters Betty (Trista Moldovan) and Judy Haynes (Meredith Patterson) winds up whisking them to Vermont, where they scheme to help out their former general, Henry Waverly (Joseph Costa). Love manages to squirm its way through, but in the end, all find a happy ending.
As with any adaptation, the temptation is to compare every line, character, and scene with the film. That doesn’t seem to be much of an issue in this case, with a few exceptions. The changes are in the minor details and some character choices, but the story still has the same arc with minimal differing side plots. The actors quickly prove that they didn’t set out to mimic the original characters, and the musical unfolds as its own entity. When the show hits a point that matches the movie, the warmth of nostalgia makes one smile, like watching a current film that pays homage to a familiar favorite flick.
The slight character changes, however, are interesting to note. The four main characters and their relationships are really just amplified versions from those in the movie. Clow brings a more dramatic tone to Bob, and Elder makes Phil more of a sprightly womanizer. Moldovan increases Betty’s stoicism, while Patterson creates a zestier Judy. When the couples meet, Bob and Betty are more frigid, as the any warmth in the relationship has moved to Phil and Judy, who immediately act like giddy lovebirds.
Vocals for all are outstanding, and other notable performances arise, as well. Ruth Williamson shines as the housekeeper Martha Watson, with her commanding presence, powerful vocals and humor. Costa plays the part of an aging general well, and even though his speeches can sound a bit dry, they have a hardened passion to them that could make one salute back at him at the end.
Costumes by designer Carrie Robbins are exquisite. The famous blue dresses of the “Sisters” routine get a glitzy makeover, and the red dresses of the final “White Christmas” number are stunning. Color palettes and patterns for each scene blend beautifully, but give each segment its own unique flair.
And who could forget the dancing? True as the song, the best things in the musical happen when they’re dancing. It’s initially a bit disappointing that some of the memorable dance scenes from the film didn’t appear on stage, but the caliber of Skinner’s segments makes that thought vanish. He keeps the style of tap and jazz from the movie, so watching them is like stepping into a time machine to classic Broadway. Tap takes center stage in “Let Yourself Go.” “Blue Skies.” “I Love a Piano” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” but some beautiful ballroom partnering appears in “The Best Things happen While You’re Dancing.” Elder and Patterson demonstrate some impressive versatility with various dance forms throughout the show.
Overall, it’s a magical and joyous evening, and a refreshing break from the usual Christmas shows. If you’ve got time to see just one show this month, White Christmas is the best two-and-a-half hours of holiday fun this season.