White Christmas: The Musical is a happy holiday entertainer. Irving Berlin’s catchy rhythms seem perfectly suited to a tap-dancing, colourful cast and stage, moving at a merry pace in this two-act Arts Club Theatre production. This is the Arts Club’s fourth year of staging the show, one that premiered in San Francisco in 2004. White Christmas went on to Broadway to receive two Tony Award and six Drama Award nominations in 2009.
Irving Berlin wrote the song White Christmas for the 1942 movie Holiday Inn. It won that year’s Academy Award for Best Song. Bing Crosby sang it in Holiday Inn as well as in the film version of White Christmas in 1954. His recording has sold over 30 million copies and is still one of the best-selling singles in the world.
Vancouver’s lucky to have such a robust group of talent on the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. A six piece orchestra provides accompaniment as the show opens to 1944: Yuletide in wartime. Two GIs from the 151st division start off by singing Happy Holiday and White Christmas, looking to add cheer to the troops stuck in battle overseas on Christmas Eve.
Flash forward 10 years to 1954, where Bob Wallace (Jeffrey Victor) and Phil Davis (Todd Talbot) appear in matching dark red suits to a tap-dancing tune, soon joined by a group of guys and gals in kitschy 50’s holiday outfits. The acoustics are great in this production, making it a joy to listen to Victor’s singing, particularly during the charming split scene Love and The Weather, performed with Phil and the Haynes sisters, Judy (Monique Lund) and Betty (Sara-Jeanne Hosie). Both Judy and Betty have their own unique charm and beautiful voices.
The story picks up steam when the sisters head to Vermont for a gig at the General’s Inn. Unbeknownst to Bob, Phil (who’s already taken a liking to Judy) has concocted a scheme to get himself and Bob up there in place of their original sunny Florida destination.
Once Bob has come to accept the fact that those skis and warm clothes are no mistake and that their train is indeed headed north, he joins Phil at the inn, along with the girls. It just so happens that retired General Henry Waverly (Allan Gray) runs the inn and is running it into the red. It’s decided that the Haynes sisters will add their talent to a winter show to help the inn get back on track.
Inn keeper Martha Watson (Susan Anderson, in a show-stealing role) is a treat to watch, as she forms the glue that holds the inn, the General, and his granddaughter Susan (Jada McKenzie-Moore) together. Jada’s got a strong voice to lend the production which we discover towards the end of the show.
Act two opens with a golden glitzy tap number, I Love a Piano. The huge keyboard-themed backdrop, piano, and black and white steps on stage add life to the tapping frenzy, making this a highlight of the show. While the tune isn’t a very complex one, it’s wonderfully danced to. Thumbs up to Choreographer Valerie Easton. Another lively moment comes when the Haynes sisters sing Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun together with Martha Watson. The three harmonize very well together. Not to be outdone, Phil and Bob take on the song in a hilarious fashion.
There’s more to the boy meets girl story, which I’ll leave for you to discover. Suffice it to say, the cast and crew are marvelous in bringing this seasonal favourite to Vancouver once again. By the time that White Christmas is reprised at the end of the show (followed by I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm), snow is falling in Vermont, there’s holiday decorations all over the stage, and the cast and ensemble are decked out in red and green. You’ll leave the Stanley ready to trim the tree.
White Christmas: The Musical is directed by Bill Millerd with musical direction by Bruce Kellett and continues through December 23.
Photo credit: David Cooper.