Theatre Review | 'Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical' 

click to enlarge OFC Creations presents 'Irving Berlin's White Christmas" The Musical" through December 23.

SAMPER IMAGES.

OFC Creations presents 'Irving Berlin's White Christmas" The Musical" through December 23.

Sure as Santa Claus needs cookies, Christmas romantic comedies need a contrived set up, a precocious child, and the promise of snow. All these and more are present in "Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical,” playing at OFC Creations under the direction of Eric Vaughn Johnson as part of their Broadway in Brighton series through Dec. 23.

Based on the 1954 film of the same name starring Bing Crosby, it’s not surprising the show opens with old-fashioned U.S. army propaganda. It’s 1944, and soldiers Bob Wallace (Eric Schutt) and Phil Davis (Hunter Ekberg) perform to cheer their troops. This scene is mostly an excuse to open with a jaunty rendition of “Happy Holidays.” After the obligatory introductory “White Christmas,” the show gradually warms into the story.

Ten years later, Phil and Bob are now performing for the Ed Sullivan Show. They plan to do a holiday show in Florida, but come on — a warm Christmas by the beach will never do! After catching a performance by the Haynes sisters, Phil and Judy Haynes (Jade McGlynn) immediately fall for each other — it’s amazing what a good dance number (“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”) can do. They scheme to set up Bob with Judy’s sister, Betty (Hadley Strelau), by switching the train tickets from Miami to Vermont, where the Haynes sisters are booked to perform at an inn.

click to enlarge Center, Hunter Ekberg as Phil Davis and Eric Schutt as Bob Wallace. - SAMPER IMAGES.
  • SAMPER IMAGES.
  • Center, Hunter Ekberg as Phil Davis and Eric Schutt as Bob Wallace.

By a twist of fate, the inn is owned by Phil and Bob’s beloved old general, Henry Waverly (Steve Vaughan). When the two learn the inn is financially struggling, they decide to bring their show to the inn to boost business. The two-hour musical continues with rehearsals, contrived misunderstandings, and other shenanigans.

The production successfully balances the many locations and the shows-within-the-show through effective lighting (designed by Ekberg and Vaughn Johnson) and layers of curtains that ultimately reveal the wooden frame of the inn’s rehearsal barn (designed by John Haldoupis). The costumes (designed by Steph Roberts) evoke 1950s entertainment with suits and a variety of dresses.

The one technical disappointment is the lack of live accompaniment, as the background instrumentals are provided by pre-recorded tracks blaring from speakers. Fortunately, the singing is strong enough to transcend comparisons to karaoke. Leads Schutt, Ekberg, Strelau, and McGlynn are all experienced singers perfectly suited for Golden Age show tunes.

Another vocal standout is Laura-Jean Diekmann as Martha Watson, the Broadway-diva-turned-inn-manager. The cast commits wholeheartedly to the earnestness of Irving Berlin’s blatantly optimistic lyrics, selling lines like “if you’re worried and you can’t sleep / count your blessings instead of sheep” and “let me sing and I’m happy.”

The high point of the production is its dance numbers. Caeli Carroll’s choreography allows the skillful cast to show off classic Broadway and tap crowd-pleasers — high kicks, time steps, top hot and cane routines. Standout ensemble numbers include “Snow,” “I Love a Piano,” “Blue Skies,” and the rich harmonies in the final rendition of “White Christmas.”

This stage adaptation, written by David Ives and Paul Blake, premiered in 2000, but the script doesn’t quite catch up to 21st century sensibilities around gender. While none of the characters are particularly well-rounded, Bob gets presented as a kind, generous, and caring love interest while Betty is just . . . a redhead. Judy falls into the tired trope of the jealous, clingy girlfriend, which the otherwise charming McGlynn leans into a bit too much with her squinty glares when the stereotypically dumb blonde twins Rhoda (Claire Kennard) and Rita (Abby Kate Herron) swoon over Phil.

The romanticized nostalgia around fighting World War II is also off-putting, with dull songs like “What Can You Do With a General?” and a strange comparison of the military to show business. Presenting army life as feel-good escapism feels particularly unsettling given recent humanitarian disasters in war zones.

Thankfully, these issues mostly take a backseat to the main focus of the show, which is songs! Dance! Snow! The strength of this production rests in its pleasantly catchy tunes and the high-energy dance numbers. Unlike jokes about ditzy blondes, upbeat full ensemble dance numbers don’t get old.

"White Christmas: The Musical,” plays at OFC Creations through Dec. 23. Tickets and more info: ofccreations.com/whitechristmas.

Katherine Varga is a freelance contributor to CITY. Feedback about this article can be directed to [email protected].
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