Enjoy this ‘White Christmas’ in a cozy theater
BOSTON – In most years, we would welcome some snow right before Christmas. But this December, having already endured what one TV channel called “bitter blasts,” perhaps you’d consider a reasonable facsimile – delivered within the confines of a warm, toasty theater.
Cue the music for Work Light Productions’ “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” a big, grand musical at the Boch Center Wang Theatre, based on the classic 1954 Paramount movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.
In addition to some sterling voices and often-spectacular dancing, there are picture-postcard holiday-themed sets and “snow” that will descend on stage as well as on theater-goers.
A cast of 27 performs Irving Berlin’s iconic score, with “Sisters,” “Happy Holidays,” “Counting My Blessings,” “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano” as well as the iconic title tune — played by a big, bold, brassy orchestra.
The cast includes solid performers in the lead roles, a few old pros still at the top of their game in key character roles, and even a charming kid.
The story isn’t really a plot, more a clothes hanger to hang the gorgeous productions numbers on, a variation on the old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland MGM “Let’s put on a show” theme.
Ten years after they were a song and dance team in the Army, performing for their fellow soldiers during World War II, it is 1954 and the song and dance team of former Capt. Bob Wallace (David Elder) and Pvt. Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) have made it big on Broadway and TV.
Before embarking on a Christmas visit to Miami from New York City by train, they decide to act on a tip from an old war buddy and check out a sister act — the Haynes Sisters — for their upcoming revue.
They are dazzled by the act (“Sisters”) and Phil and Judy Haynes (Kelly Sheehan) hit it off quickly, while Bob and Betty Haynes (Kerry Conte) get off to a rocky start.
The sisters are headed to Vermont to perform over Christmas, and Phil decides he and, unbeknownst to him until it’s too late — Bob — will follow.
The “Snow’ number is a fast, funny production number that takes place on the train.
Once they get to Pine Tree, Vt,, they find there’s no snow thanks to a warm spell, and the inn run by their former company commander in World War II — General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck) — is in dire financial straits.
Bob and Betty finally become a couple — but are quickly uncoupled by a misunderstanding.
Bob and Phil help organize a show to raise money for the general, and send out an SOS to former Army buddies to come to Vermont and help save the day.
Bob will follow Betty to New York, where producer Ralph Sheldrake (Brad Frenette) will help clear up the mess and ensure a happy ending.
Vibrant production values ensure “White Christmas” is one continuous holiday card, thanks to the dazzling costumes by Carrie Robbins, and the well-appointed, colorful sets by Anna Louizos that get better as they go along, until a towering Christmas tree finally gives way to a Currier & Ives scene of a snow-laden Vermont countryside for the finale (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”).
There are several characters straight from Central Casting. Lorna Luft, daughter of the iconic Judy Garland, is the brassy Martha Watson, the crusty “concierge” at the inn who — as luck would have it — happens to be a former song and dance star named “Megaphone” Martha Watson, modeled after the late Ethel Merman.
Cliff Bemis has some fun first as “The Snoring Man” in the “Snow” number on the train and then as the inn’s handyman/lights and sound man, Ezekiel Foster, fashioning an accent not found in nature, sort of Downeast Maine meets “Darryl, Darryl and My Other Brother Darryl” from TV’s “The Bob Newhart Show,” which also happened to take place at a Vermont inn.
Ezekiel’s laconic “ay-up” drives Stage Manager Mike Nulty (Danny Gardner) to distraction.
And where would we be without the requisite cute, star-struck kid, in this case Susan Waverly (Emma Grace Berardelli), the general’s granddaughter.
The tap numbers are simply wonderful. The two best production numbers book-end each other: “Blue Skies,” which caps the first act, is just a marvelous display of skill, precision, and stamina, and right there with it is the Act II opener, “I Love a Piano,” with Benton as Phil David and Sheehan as Judy Haynes strutting their stuff. .
Yes, it will snow at the conclusion of the show, a fitting spectacle in a Wang Theatre gorgeously decorated for the holidays.
You’ll want to join in for the sing-along to “White Christmas” itself at the end of a good-hearted, good-humored and often spectacular way to spend some quality holiday time.
Work Light Productions’ “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, based upon the Paramount Pictures film written for the screen by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank. Direction and choreography by Randy Skinner; book by David Ives and Paul Blake; set design by Anna Louizos ; costume design by Carrie Robbins; set adaptation by Kenneth Foy; , lighting design by Ken Billington; sound design by Keith Caggiano; orchestrations by Larry Blank with vocal and dance arrangements by Bruce Pomahac; music direction by Michael Horsley, and associate choreography by Kristyn Pope. At the Boch Center Wang Theatre through Dec. 29. Bochcenter.org