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NY Theater Reviews

Scene from Irving Berlin's White Christmas/PH: Sara Krulwich



'Tis the season to try and feel jolly. But did we really need a stage adaptation of Irving Berlin's White Christmas?

Pop the shiny bubble that is Irving Berlin's White Christmas, and what remains is mostly stale air. Director Walter Bobbie's retro-staging of the 1954 movie musical is all about the nostalgic packaging: Anna Louizos's cheesy but serviceable sets, Carrie Robbins's period-faithful costuming, choreographer Randy Skinner's adequate if unimaginative tap extravaganzas.

The book, adapted by David Ives and Paul Blake from the original screenplay, is tissue-thin, as are the characterizations. Steven Bogardus is too pinched and recessive as Bob, the skeptical song-and-dance man, and Jeffrey Denman merely bland as his former army buddy turned stage partner, Phil, a self-styled Lothario (they have tough shoes to fill: those of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye). As Judy (the Vera-Ellen role), Meredith Patterson resembles nothing so much as a cake decoration: she's plastic to the core. Only Kerry O'Malley as the principled, romance-averse Betty (Rosemary Clooney in the original) appears to have the slightest shred of an interior life. During her nightclub torch song, "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me," the series of musty tableaux judders briefly to life.

As salty Vermont innkeeper Martha Watson, Susan Mansur manages to lend her scenes a reliable crackle, with little help from dully twinkling Charles Dean as the owner, a retired WWII general. So family-friendly is this show, the raunchiest line is Martha's reference to their good-as-married relationship: "We fight all the time and we never have sex." Not for this intended audience - elders introducing their grandkids to the theatre, perhaps? - the tic-like "fooks" that pepper Billy Elliot.

Not to be unkind, but you'd have to be over eighty (part of the Lawrence Welk generation) or under eight to find much fascination here. Six satellite productions are already well established across the country, from Boston to L.A. It seems unlikely that sophisticated New Yorkers will embrace this re-gifted hand-me-down. Out-of-towners, however, whose ticket purchases drive Broadway, will likely lap it up.