by Beki Pineda
WHITE CHRISTMAS – Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin; Book by David Ives and Paul Blake; Directed by Randy Skinner. Produced by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Presented at the Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through December 15. Tickets available at 303-93-4100 or denvercenter.org.
WHITE CHRISTMAS may very well be one of the first ever “jukebox” musicals as it was designed solely to highlight the music of Irving Berlin. While the song “White Christmas” was introduced in the 1942 movie HOLIDAY INN, the plot was given a major rewrite before the 1954 movie was put together using a collage of Berlin music, most of which was not original to the later film. “Let Yourself Go” was written for the 1936 movie, FOLLOW THE FLEET; “I Love a Piano” came from a 1920 movie called STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! and was used again in the Judy Garland movie, EASTER PARADE. Even the novelty song “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” was used first in a film in 1949 called MISS LIBERTY. Favorite song “Snow” was originally called “Free” and written for CALL ME MADAM but dropped from the score and given new lyrics for WHITE CHRISTMAS. Several stand-alone Berlin songs were also incorporated into the score, such as “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” (1930), “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” (1952), and “How Deep is the Ocean” (1932). As Berlin composed around 1500 songs in his decades long career, there was plenty of source material for the producers to choose from.
Since the movie version has gained traditional status since its release in 1954 and pops up on TV nationwide every holiday season, there’s no need to go through the plot. Suffice it to say that this musical version follows the script of the movie very closely and provides the nostalgic look at Christmases past that we all long for. We’re all dreaming . . .
It also provides a view of exactly where musicals were in 1954 with the dancers performing those polished routines straight out of the Lawrence Welk/Arthur Murray TV dance shows of the 50’s. Pre-rock ‘n’ roll – no jazz hands – no hip bumps – just good clean athletic dancing. Standouts in the production include the dream dance between Phil and Judy’s characters called “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing.” They come back for the second act opener with an outstanding tap number to “I Love a Piano.”The cast features a pair of singers who can dance – Sean Montgomery as Bob (the Bing Crosby part) and Kerry Conte as Betty (the Rosemary Clooney part) – and a pair of dancers who can sing – Jeremy Benton as Phil (the Danny Kaye part) and Kelly Sheehan as Judy (the Vera Ellen part). All four drive the story supported by great character actors and amazing dancers.
So surprised and pleased to see Karen Ziemba in this cast. She has had a Broadway career that has stretched from 1982 to present day and is still belting out songs like the pro she is. Miss Ziemba won a Tony for her work in the dance play CONTACT in 2000 and has played most of the leading lady roles in the classic Broadway shows. One of the go-to CD’s in my car for road trip music is STEEL PIER featuring – you guessed it! – Karen Ziemba in the lead role as Rita. So welcome to Denver, Ma’am – I hope you have a great stay. Another surprising presence in this cast is John Schuck whose face became familiar to TV fans of the MCMILLAN AND WIFE 1970’s TV show and his later appearances in the STAR TREK spin-off’s as a Klingon.
Everything about this show just works – from the spectacular costumes (designed by Carrie Robbins) that feature matching shoes to suit colors for the men and beautiful flowing gowns for the women – to the personal styling of the cast which includes the men’s haircuts and the women’s hair stylings and wigs left in the able hands of Yolanda Pollock, the makeup supervisor – to the fluid sets (designed by Anna Louizos) that negate the need for blackouts and scrambling stagehands by putting the changes behind a curtain – to the magical snowfall at the end of the show (provided by Snow Masters). For those of us who have been watching the movie every year to the kids in the audience who get a glimpse of what musicals used to be like . . . . everyone left the theatre happy. You will too!! Only one weekend left – get your tickets now.
A WOW factor of 9!!!