Irving Berlin's White Christmas @ The Sony Centre

White Christmas
Sony Centre, The
November 30, 2007
Attending White Christmas around the start of December really does set the tone for the Christmas season. It was a pleasant surprise to hear that the cast of White Christmas was 50% Canadian and the orchestra was 100%; using home grown talent always makes you proud of a performance. The live orchestra gave a warm sound to the music and the choreography, set design and costumes were of Broadway standard and excellent. The story tracks singing duo Bob Wallace (Graham Rowat) and Phil Davis (Tony Yazbeck)as they get back into show business after the war and meet a sister duo Betty Haynes (Kate Baldwin) and Judy Haynes (Shannon O'Bryan), sisters of their old pal from the war. The sisters then invite them to their next gig at a Vermont Inn during Christmas, where their old General happens to be the Innkeeper.

The choreography took you through ensemble tap scenes and meticulously crafted dance numbers that utilized the vibrant costumes of the era beautifully. The set design also stood out as they made excellent use of backdrops for the Ed Sullivan Show backlighting to the Vermont rehearsals with clouds or piano keys; it all embraced the scene. Use of a "split screen" with the dressing rooms in one scene paralleled the original film, and you could smell the pine and feel the crisp Vermont air, when characters sat on the porch at the Inn under the night sky.

Each scene was also unique in that it made use of exceptional costuming: bright colours, such as cream coloured suits with sunshine yellow liners, or pink dresses and green suits dazzled the eye and drew you into the dancing. Betty Haynes (originally played by Rosemary Clooney in the film) had her famous black dress recreated exceptionally as actress Kate Baldwin sang “Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me”. A gorgeous chandelier and city scene as the backdrop and stark black and whites further emphasized the tone for her song and the feel of an authentic New York lounge. The most dramatic scene was of course the finale where the barn doors are opened and a breathtaking Vermont outdoor scene is displayed. Red flowing dresses laced with white trim and snow falling on the audience and cast while we all sang “White Christmas” made the performance complete.

The only poor point to this presentation of White Christmas was the plot changes and poor scripting; which sadly did take away from the overall performance and did not stay true to Irving Berlin's mandate at keeping his work family-friendly entertainment. The male Dance Captain's feminine fretting, playing up the two loose women in the story and the conceirge at the Inn, Martha Watson (Kate Hennig), while a brilliant comedic actress, made the overall performance suffer with raunchy scripting. While Kate Hennig's acting was a show stopper and the audience lapped up her sexist humor, the raunchy jokes made this reviewer cringe rather than delight in her comedic talent. The original Martha was a busybody, but not crude like this character. The script edits from the original felt sloppy and rushed and at some points confusing.

Where the comedy did go right was with actor Rod Campbell. The train scene when the cast sings “Snow” and Mr. Snoring Man (Rod Campbell) suddenly wakes from his slumber and joins them all singing, or when Ezekiel (also played by Rod Campbell) the stage hand would come out and grunt before walking off stage slowly was ridiculously funny.

If you're expecting this version of White Christmas to leave you with the original Irving Berlin scripting it doesn't, but if you are able to disregard the plot changes and poor humor, White Christmas will delight your senses with beautiful sets, costumes, dancing and set the stage for the Christmas season as the snow falls in the last scene.

Writer: Lindsay Whitfield

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