All is right in Irving Berlin#039;s quot;White Christmasquot;

by Beacon Staff • December 12, 2007

After a lackluster tree lighting ceremony in on a Boston Common, the city needs something more-the epitome of a perfect holiday production: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas." The stage show, based on its 1954 film, is just the treat necessary to restore the missing holiday spirit. Playing at the Wang Theatre until December 23, this is one show not to be missed.

Following the lives of ex-military musical superstars Bob Wallace (Brian d'Arcy James) and Phil Davis (Jeffry Denman), the play combines catchy songs with stunning visuals to create a magical environment onstage. The small-time Haynes sisters (Kerry O'Malley and Meredith Patterson) plot a way to get noticed by Bob and Phil by having them check out a club performance. After the sultry Haynes sisters catch the eye of Phil Davis, the boys follow the girls up to Vermont for a picture-perfect Christmas season.

From the opening number, the title song "White Christmas," the audience is taken to a far simpler time, reminiscent of Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story." One sees 1950s holiday images of family gatherings around the fireside, not to mention a less hectic lifestyle are fondly thought ofthan the hustle and bustle of modern Christmastime. What helps facilitate this transportation is the superb stage management and set design.

The sets are stunning. The color palette of greens, reds, pinks and whites is bright-but-muted, in quintessential 1950's style. Every inch of the stage is utilized as sets fly into place at breakneck speeds to seamlessly follow the action. The backdrops are varied and look lived in, adding to the authenticity of the 1950's scene.

The porch outside the Vermont inn exemplifies the work of the stage technicians and is a sight to behold. The use of lighting, shadow and scale, on the porch set give depth to the scene and create the illusion of an entire town existing right before your eyes. Lights twinkle in the far off distance and houses look as if they are actually down the street.

Unlike most musicals today, which put precedence on singing over dancing, "White Christmas" provides the audience with a plethora of fancy footwork, in addition to the musical numbers. d'Arcy James has a commanding stage presence, as he shows his versatility as an actor, singer and dancer. He is a strong singer as the pop-jazz inspired song "Blue Skies" shows. The number also showcases his dancing abilities, where the smoothness of his movements creates a swagger evocative of Frank Sinatra.

O'Malley's singing is powerful, and best represented during her late-night dinner lounge song "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," where she belts out notes with ease. Meredith Patterson gets her moment during the dance-centric number "I Love a Piano," while demonstrating her immense tapping skills. However, the real treat is Susan Mansur, who plays Martha Watson, the elderly concierge at the Columbia Inn. She adds sass and attitude to an otherwise male-dominated show and her energy reflects that of a woman half her age.

The characters wear decadent and outlandish Christmas-themed attire. Some of the better-designed costumes include large wrapped presents, lighted Christmas trees, and oversized ornaments. The use of glitter adds a sparkle like the glistening reflection of moonlight on falling snowflakes. Overtly tacky Christmas sweaters bring a humble and warming sense of the Christmas spirit to everyone.

A magical ending leaves the audience in a dazzled trance, that of a five-year-old opening presents on Christmas morning in his footed pajamas. Needless to say, this musical brings all the holiday spirit that Boston is lacking. As one of the songs suggests, "What is Christmas without snow?"

Irving Berlin's snowy "White Christmas" will be performed at the Wang Theatre from now through De. 23.