Saturday, December 24, 2011

theatre review WHITE CHRISTMAS - Papermill Playhouse, December 22

The Paper Mill Playhouse production of White Christmas ends its limited run today.  We caught one of the last performances and it was a joyous addition to the holiday season.  This show, which is based on the 1954 film and has had two recent holiday season runs on Broadway as well as numerous productions across the country, is a top notch production with wonderful Irving Berlin songs, a fun "let's put on a show" plot and an engaging and extremely talented cast.

Jill Paice, James Clow, Tony Yazbeck and Meredith Patterson
 The show starts in 1944 where Army buddies Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (Tony Yazbeck) are entertaining their fellow troops on Christmas Eve.  Flash forward 10 years and Wallace and Davis are now a famous song and dance team performing on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Upon meeting sister act Betty and Judy Haynes (Jill Paice and Meredith Patterson) Phil, instantly smitten with Judy, decides to change their Christmas plans of rehearsing their new show in Florida to follow the girls to the Vermont Inn where they will be performing.  He does this without letting Bob or Betty know of the plans which causes some problems since Bob and Betty aren't exactly impressed with each other.  When they get to the inn they find that it is run by their former Army General, but due to the lack of snow and his unfamiliarity with running an inn, business isn't doing so good.  So Bob and Phil hatch a plan to rehearse their show at the Inn and get all of their old Army buddies to come up for the holidays to support the General.   As I said above, it's the tried and true "let's put on a show" formula that has worked in so many ways before, but with the added bonus of some top notch Irving Berlin tunes.

Clow and the ensemble perform "Blue Skies"
Clow, Yazbeck and Patterson have all performed their parts on Broadway (Patterson is also on the cd of the show) and with the addition of Paice I can't imagine another foursome to more perfectly portray these characters.  Yazbeck throws himself into the many dance numbers and the joy on his face while he is performing is infectious.  His performance of "I Love a Piano" with Patterson and the ensemble was really special.  Clow has a lovely singing voice and leads the ensemble in the big act one finale of "Blue Skies" as well as performs a touching version of "Count Your Blessings."  Paice shines on her solo "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me" as well as the duets she has with Clow.  Lorna Luft is playing the part of Martha, who is helping to run the Inn with the General.  Luft gets to sing "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" which her mother, Judy Garland, also performed and Loft does a knock out job with the song. 

Yazbeck (center) and Patterson (left) perform "I Love a Piano"
Directed by Marc Bruni with choreography by Randy Skinner, the show moves swiftly along with the appropriate touches of humor and genuineness. Anna Louizos' set design and Carrie Robbins costume designs are some of the best we've seen at Paper Mill, but I'm guessing they are all the Broadway sets and costumes pulled out of storage for this run since Louizon and Robbins did the designs for Broadway.  If that's the case, they look fresh and new.  Louizos' sets don't stop, moving swiftly from dressing rooms to a train, several rooms at the Vermont Inn, including a lovely barn set that takes up the whole stage, an elegant New York supper club to a knockout of a set for the finale that looks like a snowy Christmas card.  Robbins' costumes are just as good with the finale costumes especially capturing the joy of the holiday season.

Lorna Luft
White Christmas at the Paper Mill is the perfect blend of top notch cast, excellent sets, costumes, direction and choreography and a fun, though simple story all wrapped up with some of the best loved Irving Berlin songs.   I wouldn't be surprised to see this come back to the Paper Mill in a couple of years for another holiday season run.

As an added bonus at the performance we attended, Liza Minnelli was seated in the row directly in front of us.  She was obviously there to support her half-sister Luft but she couldn't have been more generous to the entire cast as well and she was in fact the first person to jump to her feet at the end of the show.  Her infectious laugh added an additional element of joy to the evening.

Highlights from the Paper Mill production:

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