For those who get high on the holidays, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is pure Maui Waui: there’s snow, there are patterned sweaters, there’s a cozy Vermont inn, there are at least four eggnog-assisted romances, there’s a cute kid on school break, there’s a brightly-lit tree, there are presents—and of course there’s “White Christmas,” the song that’s so popular, the Bing Crosby version is the best-selling single of all time and that version accounts for only a third of the total copies sold.
White Christmas, a stage musical adapted from the 1954 movie, is also well-stocked with other Berlin classics—songs that, unless you’re a regular viewer of the film, evoke the holiday spirit without feeling stale and overfamiliar. The one that, unsurprisingly, went over best with the Minnesota audience I saw the show with last night was “Snow,” a joyful romanticizing of that fluffy white stuff that brings sparkles to children’s eyes and parking restrictions to residential streets.
Though there are some additional songs and some plot tweaks that will be imperceptible to those who, like me, have seen the movie only once, the musical—playing at Minneapolis’s Orpheum Theatre through November 30—basically follows the plot of the movie: two former WWII Army buddies who have become successful entertainers in the Ed Sullivan era start crushing on a sister act, who they follow to a resort that turns out to be run by their former general. The inn is struggling to attract customers due to an unseasonal paucity of snow, so the buddies summon their whole troupe to put on a big show and save the day. Musical numbers, misunderstandings, and minor make-outs ensue.
Director Randy Skinner, and writers David Ives and Paul Blake, take the classy route with this adaptation, which debuted in 2000 and is now making the rounds as a touring show. With a straightforwardly attractive set by Anna Louizos, the production relies heavily on the hoofing and singing of its leads and supporting cast. Song after song unfolds in production numbers given a charmingly vintage feel by Skinner, who also choreographed. Many of the numbers are presented as stage entertainment presented in rehearsal or for an on-stage audience, inducing a pleasant feeling of nostalgia for the days when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye could build careers on rummy charm and low-key antics.
Lead actors James Clow and Jeremy Benton wisely opt to evoke the spirit of the legendary performers who created their roles without trying to impersonate them. As their foils, Trista Moldovan and Kaitlyn Davidson strike just the right notes of slightly sultry matronliness and flirtatious exuberance, respectively. There’s solid casting throughout, from the Daddy-Warbucks-like general (Conrad John Schuck) to his spunky granddaughter (Elizabeth Crawford, alternating in the role with Ava Dellapietra). This production makes a strength out of the seemingly effortless professionalism of a touring Broadway cast: there’s no straining for effect, nor does there need to be.
The show’s climax, foreshadowed in its title, makes a big impact with a couple simple tricks of stagecraft deployed with supreme elegance. If you don’t leave the theater with your heart having grown three sizes—well, then Christmas just isn’t for you.
Prior to Tuesday’s performance, I joined a group of press on a short tour of some nearby storefronts being filled with art as part of the Made Here program, the winter iteration of which (titled “Brilliance!”) is nearing completion. Coordinator Joan Vorderbruggen said that the project is an attempt to recapture the sense of fun and discovery families had when gaping at window displays in the department-store era. Don’t expect any animatronic elves, though: the closest thing to a traditional holiday display encompassed by the program is a hulking gingerbread house erected in the courtyard of the Le Meridien Chambers. Though the quality of the work on display is varied, any program that encourages teenagers to hang slightly creepy baby dolls in downtown store windows as ambiguous symbols of oppressive social norms gets a thumbs-up from me.