Irving Berlin's White Christmas

You can bet if Irving Berlin were alive, he'd have a Broadway hit that solves all the world's problems within the genre of romantic comedy. The eternal optimist and master composer and lyricist has already done this, you see, in White Christmas, now running at the Buell Theatre as a joint production of Denver Center Attractions and the Denver Center Theatre Company.

Benjie Randall and Kate Marilley with the ensemble performing 'I Love A Piano'
Benjie Randall and Kate Marilley
with the ensemble
performing "I Love A Piano"
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Depending upon your era, you may or may not remember the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, but you've certainly heard the title song, which holds the title of the all-time best selling single. In addition, the stage musical, adapted in 2000 by Paul Blake, artistic director of the St. Louis Municipal Opera, includes splashy tap, jazz, and dance numbers, some reminiscent of the uncredited work of Bob Fosse in the original, and new choreography by veteran hoofer Patti Colombo, that give it the feel of a classic 50's Broadway box office blockbuster.

As the show's director, DCTC artistic director Kent Thompson, says in the program notes, the stage version has a number of advantages over the film, including further character development in the parallel love stories. Although a few scenes were excised to get the show under two and a half hours, it still runs ten minutes over. Further trimming could easily be obtained at the expense of the scenes involving the local laconic Vermonter, Ezekiel Foster, which, despite the best efforts of local favorite Randy Moore, puts unnecessary brakes on what otherwise is a swift-paced and slick production.

Mike Hartman as General Waverly
Mike Hartman as General Waverly
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Versatile DCTC company member Mike Hartman plays General Henry Waverly, a grumpy curmudgeon who runs a struggling country inn as if it were boot camp. The gravelly-voiced Hartman reminds us of the drawings of war correspondent and editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin—endearing and stoic—underscoring the story's nostalgic and patriot call.

(Left to right) Benjie Randall and Andrew Samonsky as Phil Davis and Bob Wallace
(L to R) Benjie Randall
and Andrew Samonsky
as Phil Davis and Bob Wallace
Photo: Terry Shapiro

Andrew Samonsky and Benjie Randall, as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, former war buddies under Waverly's command, provide smooth harmonies and crisp moves as a song and dance team in search of a new act. They find this in Amy Bodnar and Kate Marilley, as sisters Betty and Judy Haynes, an equally-talented team looking for their big break.

(Left to right) Amy Bodnar and Kate Marilley as Betty and Judy Haynes
(L to R) Amy Bodnar and Kate Marilley
as Betty and Judy Haynes
Photo: Terry Shapiro
The plot is quickly set-up in an impressively economic and artful sequence: parallel scenes between the touchy romantics, Bob and Betty, singing "Love and the Weather," and the fast-lane realists, Phil and Judy, tripping the light in "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing."

Though the story remains light and airy, the vicissitudes of the two romances sustain a believable tension, keeping us guessing as to the resolution.

Dorothy Stanley as Martha Watson
Dorothy Stanley
as Martha Watson
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Even the general softens up under the bombardment of two charming females, his granddaughter, the nine-year old Susan Waverly, and the feisty Martha Watson, who apparently served under him in the war. Susan is played alternately by Chloe Nosan and Desirée Samler, who get to shine in a cute top hat and cane number, "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Dorothy Stanley, as Martha, stirs memories of Eve Arden and Lucille Ball with her dry wit and feigned exasperation.

In addition to the famous title number, the show includes "Happy Holiday," "Count Your Blessings," "Blue Skies," "I Love a Piano," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," and others, all showcased by a 23-piece orchestra.

Denver Center Attractions and the Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 30th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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