By Philip Dorian
In the words of one Phoenix Productions insider, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is “the kind of show you rush through the book to get to the music.”
Berlin’s music and lyrics make the show palatable … and then some. Adapted from the 1954 movie about two old Army buddies putting on a show to save their former commanding general’s Vermont inn, the dialogue, even reworked by David Ives (“All in the Timing”), is as sappy now as it was then.
But with such songs as “Sisters” and “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” brought over from the movie, and Berlin’s “Blue Skies,” “Let Yourself Go” and others shoehorned in, the show is a sure-fire audience pleaser.
When the ex-Army song-and-dance guys team up with a sister act, it turns out that one of each pair is a singer and one a dancer. (Whew … what luck!) As the singing couple, Jennifer Grasso and Michael Morch, put lilt into the “Love and the Weather” duet and dig the nostalgia out of “Love You Didn’t Do
Right by Me,” sung by Grasso in tandem with Morch’s “How Deep Is the Ocean.” (Morch’s tendency to flat some tones disappears in duets and group numbers.)
Laura Gepford and Ian Brown-Gorrell are the dancing couple, tapping up and down outsized piano keys on “I Love a Piano” and making “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” true to its title. Choreographer Drew Wilfrid’s claim to sainthood is bolstered by the terrific execution of his fancy steps by an attractive assembly of community performers, some still in high school.
The temptation to overact one-dimensional characters, and for director Anthony Greco to allow it, is understandable. To that end, Brianna Rosado and Melissa Javorek’s ditzy showgirl stereotypes are forgiven, even enjoyed. (“Pardon my innuendo, but who is she?” one of them squeaks.)
Casey Okamoto camps it up as a harried stage manager and Nicole Picinic hypers it up as the inn’s “concierge.” Picinic tempers it for her “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” vaudeville turn and again, joining Grasso and Gepford on “Falling Out of Love Can be Fun,” a little-known Berlin tune aced by the three.
Paul Caliendo is four-star as the retired General, although you could drive a tank through his pauses, and Jeff Dworkin is amusing as the sluggish handyman. As the General’s precocious granddaughter, Sarah Coleman does a nifty “Let Me Sing” reprise. (Sarah Rappoport alternates in the role.)
Musical director Robert Sammond’s 13-piece orchestra brings the Berlin score to life and Ashley Cusack’s sets mesh smoothly with one another. Costumer Sue Darling Hawley, darling herself in tinselly opening-night finery, has collated a ton of attractive outfits, and the ensemble gals and guys sport them with style.
Check out “White Christmas” for its Irving Berlin tune fest, including a delicious sing-along to the title song, and overlook the limp plot – although it may be your last opportunity to hear someone actually say “hubba-hubba.”
“White Christmas,” through Sunday, Nov. 24 at Count Basie Theatre, Red Bank. Performances are: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m Sunday. For tickets ($22-$32): 732-747-0014 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.