White Christmas at the Fox gives old favorite new life

By Martin F. Kohn
Published: November 18, 2006
Big barn doors open to reveal snow falling on a Christmas card of a landscape, but long before that happens, Irving Berln’s White Christmas establishes itself as a breath of fresh air. This is ironic because White Christmas, which opened Saturday night at the Fox Theatre, is a very old-fashioned show.

It has two big tap numbers: one of them a knockout, the other merely delightful. One of its main plots is that old standby of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together before those barn doors open on the dreamy snowscape. It has lovely sets and lots of ’em, stunning costumes and lots of ’em, and a couple of song-and-dance men who meet their match in a couple of song- and-dance women.

And besides its title song, it has Berlin tunes from the 1910s, ’20s, ’30s, ’40s and ’50s. Yes, you read that correctly; Berlin lived to 101. Based on the 1954 movie White Christmas, the show used songs from the film plus a healthy variety of other Berlin songs.

Put them all together, as this show does, and they add up to highly entertaining holiday fare with nary a reindeer or Santa suit in sight. There are Christmas trees, though, two of which appear. Briefly, as costumes.

White Christmas is a fine family show, but not for little kids. Keep the four- and five-year-olds at home, unless they’re big fans of 40s musicals. There is a story to follow but it’s too subtle for little ones.

This is it: Bob (Graham Rowat) and Phil (Mark Ledbetter) are a couple of old singing and dancing Army buddies who’ve become stars. They meet the singing and dancing Haynes sisters (Kate Baldwin and Shannon O’Bryan) and they all wind up Vermont where the boys’ former commander, General Waverly (Charles Dean) runs a struggling country inn with his right-hand woman, Martha Watson (Susan Mansur) who used to be in show biz herself.

Bob and Phil decide to put on a show to help their old general.

The knockout tap number, the highlight of the show, is “I Love a Piano,” performed with flawless flair by Ledbetter, O’Bryan and a chorus line dressed in white (the men) and black (the women), like the keys of a piano. Almost as good, and with many more colors, is “Blue Skies” performed by Rowat and the ensemble.

Mansur, who is a little bit Ethel Merman, a little bit Bette Midler, a little bit Nancy Walker and wholly her own, deserves two big numbers and she gets them: “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” O’Bryan and Baldwin join in on the latter, and the trio channel the Andrews Sisters.

Rowat and Baldwin, the boy-loses-girl couple, draw the moodier songs (“How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”) and they carry their torches high.

“White Christmas” is a musical that reflects its famous lyric: merry, bright and in the finest tradition, just like the ones we used to know.