Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Richard's review of The Christmas Ballet
The 1954 Paramount film is in this production, scene by scene, from the opening scene with Captain Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Private Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) during World War II as they are entertaining troops at Christmas in 1944. It then follows the two guys as professional song-and-dance men on "The Ed Sullivan Show" where they interview a pair of girls: Judy (Kelly Sheehan) and Betty (Kerry Conte). All four end up in Vermont where the men's old General (Conrad John Schuck) he is running a near-bankrupt inn. His helper is Martha Watson (Lorna Luft). The boys put on a show and save the day. In the first act these scenes go whizzing by at top speed.
Producers Stephen and Nancy Gabriel of Work Light Productions have jettisoned some of the songs from the film and they have included additional songs, making this musical one of the most melodious of the season.
The big production numbers "Blues Skies" and "I Love a Piano" are showstopping wonderful. "Blue Skies" comes near the end of the first act with a chorus line of a male and female dancers in white costumes and white felt hats and white canes tapping their hearts out. Everyone in the audience goes out on a high at intermission. The second big production number takes place about midway into the second act, the outstanding old-fashioned dancing number "I Love a Piano" which features tornado-driven dancers who tap up a storm.
Sean Montgomery and Jeremy Benton are excellent as Bob and Phil. Sean plays it straight while Jeremy somewhat camps it up. Both have pleasing vocal chops in "Happy Holiday," "Let Yourself Go," "Blue Skies," and "I Love a Piano." Kerry Conte as Betty and Kelly Sheehan as Judy have vibrant voices in "Sisters" and "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun."
Lorna Luft is a powerhouse singing "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" which she belts out in her Ethel Merman voice and she is terrific. She also has the most delicious, campiest lines as the manager of the Inn. Conrad John Schuck is outstanding as retired General Henry Waverly. The entire ensemble is first rate, especially the general's precocious granddaughter Susan, played at the performance I attended by Clancy Penny (alternating with Samantha Penny).
Randy Skinner, who directed and choreographed the musical, did an impressive job with such a large cast. Carrie Roberts' costume and sets by Anna Louizos are stunning.
Bottom Line: Irving Berlin's White Christmas is full of Christmas cheer, good production numbers, and wonderful singing of the classic Irving Berlin songs.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 24, 2016, at the SHN Golden Gate Theatre, 1 Taylor Street, San Francisco. For tickets 888-746-1799 or www.shnsf.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.irvingberlinswhitechristmas.com. Coming next to the SHN Orpheum Theatre, Market Street, San Francisco, is Finding Neverland opening January 18 and running through February 12.