Weather Report: ‘White Christmas’ as ‘enchanting as a first snow’

cast of Irving Berlin's White Christmas on stage

IBWC National Tour Company. Jeremy Daniel Photography, 2016.

The Christmas spirit is headed to Nashville early this year and it’s bringing a daily snowfall with it (twice on matinee days). The beautiful white blanket of snow will cascade down on theatergoers in TPAC’s Jackson Hall as they watch Irving Berlin’s beloved holiday movie musical White Christmas come to life onstage.

The Oakland Tribune praised the musical saying, “Step aside, Christmas Carol. Twirl back, Nutcracker. There’s a new kid on the seasonal entertainment block, and its star is Irving Berlin.” The holiday spectacular will dazzle audiences starting on November 13-18 at TPAC.

President of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, Ted Chapin, said that Irving Berlin’s Hollywood musicals have always had potential to transfer to the stage.

“We’ve been working on several ideas, but the reason White Christmas came first was because Paramount Pictures stepped forward and saw the potential too,” Ted said.

Paramount Pictures produced the 1954 holiday classic White Christmas. Starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the film is a perfect Christmastime confection and a snapshot of a confident, optimistic and warmhearted America, basking in its post-war glow. The film has become a venerable holiday tradition. It was an ideal candidate for a stage treatment.

In 2000, the St. Louis Muny, under the leadership of Paul Blake, presented a preliminary production of White Christmas, with a script by Blake. Even in the heat and humidity of a torpid St. Louis July, the Christmas magic worked.

Over the next four years, R&H and Paramount worked together to bring the film’s magic to the stage production. Paul Blake led the team and took the project to Kevin McCollum, who then brought his producing partner Jeffrey Seller onto the team.

At the first day of rehearsal for White Christmas in October 2004, director Walter Bobbie (Tony winner for Chicago) marvelled at the producing team’s innovative approach to staging the new musical: “Kevin and Jeffrey are producing White Christmas in a way that big musicals don’t happen any more. They called me and said, ‘We’ve got a sensational score by Irving Berlin, and we’ve already booked a theater. Let’s put on a show!’ No workshop, no years of development. They weren’t producing a reading; they were actually producing a show!”.

While critics and audiences alike agree that every aspect of White Christmas is enjoyable, the Tribune describes Irving Berlin’s score as the thing that “truly makes this ornament shine.”

White Christmas on stage retained the most cherished songs from the film – including “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and that title song – while adding a few more gems carefully selected from Berlin’s song catalogue of 1,200-plus.  Given its showbiz plot, the stage musical was able to make ample room for production numbers – from “Blue Skies” and “Let Yourself Go” to “I Love a Piano” and “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” – while making plot-turning numbers out of “Love and the Weather,” and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.” A few more splashes of holiday cheer were added with “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Happy Holiday.”

For director Walter Bobbie, the guiding principle, as he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “was to take the songs and let them function in the way they do in the theater: to expand characters or drive the narrative. In the movie, they’re just sort of plopped in every once in a while, and those rules don’t really work on stage.”

“Berlin’s melodies are universal, undeniable…We have a chemical-positive reaction to them. And then there’s the structure: his songs are incredibly well built and they’re deceptively simple. There’s a power to these songs, and in the context of a story, they’re brilliant, beautiful little vignettes of the human condition,” said Brian d’Arcy James, who created the role of Bob Wallace in the original stage version.

The production’s surefire ability to hit just the right note – celebrating nostalgia, not mocking it – scored well with critics.

“Director Walter Bobbie and his crew have created a feel-good show that borrows from the past but doesn’t feel remotely like a museum piece,” said the Oakland Tribune.

‘Christmas arrived early,” reported the Chronicle. “But when the gift is as sweetly wrapped and as packed with melodic delights as Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a premature present couldn’t be more welcome…The voices are superb, the acting is engaging, the design is entrancing and the choreography positively exhilarating…In these dark times, we could all use some heart-warming.”



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