“I want to wash my face, my hands, my hair in snow…” is a favorite line from “Snow,” one of Irving Berlin’s songs in White Christmas, a lively number accented by a snoring gag, which sums up the production at the Birch North Park Theater.
You’ll want to wash the storyline, the gags, the characters in snow…until you find the bright tap dancing, orchestra, and catchy songs.
If you’re a Christmas fanatic, Lawrence Welk fan club member, and still enjoy the film from 1954, this musical is your big mug of eggnog. The show follows the film, with a few Berlin songs added and subtracted. Don Le Master directs the holiday favorites with verve, and the orchestra on stage sounds terrific. You can’t get that sonic thrill from a DVD. If only writers Ives and Blake added humor with a longer shelf life to the musical. The handyman’s dry “yup” and guys dancing in their boxers with fans just doesn’t cut it.
The corny plot follows the antics of Bob and Phil, two Army veterans who make it big as nightclub entertainers, and sister act Betty and Judy, who want a career and a good man. The four flirt and scheme and end up in Vermont to put on a really big show at the inn of the guys’ cranky old general.
One of the four leads is different from last year. Todd DuBail is a suave Bob Wallace, the bachelor in Bing Crosby’s role. He looks great in a lime green suit, but he’s no Bing and struggles with pitch in several songs.
A knockout in the show last year, Laura Dickinson returns as Betty, his untrusting romantic partner and Wynonna Judd doppelganger. Her torchy solo “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is an unforgettable highlight of the production. And she carries the Betty/Bob duet with a natural, velvety style.
A favorite from last year, Jeffrey Scott Parsons brings quick repartee and physicality to the showbiz sidekick Phil Davis, Danny Kaye’s role in the film. He is smitten by Judy, played by the spunky Jill Townsend, and so are we. When the zipper on her sequined gown failed inch by inch, she never faltered, which makes us love her and live theater all the more -and we have new respect for the halter style.
The couple is ideally matched, and a winning chemistry in song and dance harkens to the best old fashioned musicals. Choreographer Lisa Hopkins offers waltzes with leaps in the air and imaginative tap sequences. Parsons and Ms. Townsend are spot on in romantic duets and make time steps in triple-time look easy, even atop a miniature piano. The chorus is equally nimble in the exuberant tap number “I love a Piano.” Tap aficionados, their riffs and classic syncopations are a treat rarely seen in San Diego, (Claudia Gomez being the exception).
White Christmas plays on those who long for the 1950s. If you weren’t around to enjoy the Ed Sullivan Show, you won’t get the joke about Topo Gigio the Italian mouse puppet. The two bimbos who squeal for Oxydol soap and purity are still good for a giggle. Rita and Rhoda (Kathy Tabb and Stephanie Wolfe) would be at home on a modern reality show as actresses who sell soap and chase the same guy.
Still, much of the musical feels old and characters wear. The melodramatic stage manager is just annoying. A precocious little girl (Clair Scheper) sings wonderfully, but viewers feel forced to say “ah.” Ed Hollingsworth as General Waverly is more engaging this year, but don’t expect him to speak about the current war. And while the guys save their beloved general from bankruptcy in the end, White Christmas doesn’t transcend to small business owners struggling now.
Wash those expectations with snow –which is made of soap flakes and flutters down from the rafters – and savor the bright dancing, orchestra, and songs.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical runs Dec. 12-22, 2013 at the Birch North Park Theatre.