By Robert W. Bethune, guest critic
Okay, I admit it. I’m a fool for Christmas, and I’m a fool for big, bright, shiny musicals done right with flair and pizzazz. So I’m a fool for “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”
It has everything that makes a fool like me happy.
It has a very soft romantic storyline, pretty much what you remember from the movie, with only just enough dramatic tension in it to keep it moving.
It has plenty of quirky, enjoyable characters, especially Susan Mansur as Martha Watson, aka Ethel Merman, and Cliff Bemis as Ezekiel, the slowest-moving Vermonter in history. It has a delightful little girl, Berklea Going as Susan, who sings and dances up a storm when the adults finally let her. It has handsome and beautiful romantic leads who sing, dance, act and make you care in Graham Rowat, Mark Ledbetter, Kate Baldwin and Shannon O’Bryan. You’ll even have a chance to help them sing “White Christmas.”
It has terrific design in all areas, with brilliant use of color throughout. I can’t help singling out two things: the stunning flashes of yellow that pop out against white and blue in one number, and the black dress to overpower all other black dresses in which Kate Baldwin sings “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”
Last but hardly least, it has high-energy Broadway-style chorus dancing with terrific energy and beautiful precision. You really don’t get to see this kind of dancing done at this level nearly often enough around here. They didn’t leave out the tap; there’s lots of it, and really well done. Even Ezekiel suddenly finds himself moving his feet.
It’s a show about putting on a show, which means, of course, that there are quite a few production numbers that have nothing whatsoever to do with the story. However, an intriguing element of the production is how often director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Randy Skinner manage to make something happen in those numbers that does pull you back to the story.
In particular, there’s a very funny sequence in which General Waverly and Martha Watson wind up chasing each other around right through what is supposed to be a rehearsal for the big show at the inn. (Every director should be so lucky as to have a musical number look that good in what is supposed to be a rehearsal!)
All this being said, the reason why this show succeeds so well is that it is not nostalgic. The combination of Irving Berlin’s music and the Bing Crosby storyline could produce an evening calculated to accomplish nothing but sweet dreams for geezers. This show does not do that. It is fast-paced, energetic, emotionally rewarding, and above all, youthful. A great deal of credit for that goes to music director Michael Horsley, who brings this music to vivid, fully energized life from start to finish.
‘Irving Berlin’s White Christmas’
Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tue.-Sun., through Dec. 30. Tickets: $20-$100. For information: 313-471-6611 or http://www.olympiaentertainment.com