“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Orpheum Theatre: Christmas came too early in favor of too few


In a state where snow began it’s residency in early November, long before officially being winter, it seems as though many Minnesotans aren’t dreaming of a white Christmas just yet. As Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical takes the stage at the Orpheum, with opening night prior to thanksgiving and closing night sooner than the month of December, it has it’s work cut out to spread holiday cheer.

Based on the 1954 movie, the show’s storyline follows a male performing duo in a romantic comedy. While falling in and out of love with a sister act the men aid their former commanding general in saving his failing Vermont inn. Packed with singing, dancing, and affection this adaptation attempted to recreate and bring to greater life the sense of holiday tradition that continues to be found in the film classic.

From the beginning, scene after scene, the parameters of the stage transport viewers into homey, realistic locations, a memorable one being the bright, welcoming lobby of the General’s inn. The sets, visually elaborate and appealing, were low-tech through renovation of original design by scenic adaptor Kenneth Foy. This allowed scenes to occur in front a curtain while changes were smoothly made behind. The acting and singing were quite impressive too, contradictory to the overall storyline, with standout vocals by James Clow (Bob Wallace), Trista Moldovan (Betty Haynes), and Pamela Myers (Martha Watson) as well as strong backing by the ensemble. The choreography done by Mary Giattino-Styles was positively exhilarating with a fitting adaptation of 1950s dance styles for the stage. Among the most notable was the high-energy number for ‘Happy Holidays’ and the ensemble-heavy ‘Blue Skies’. Stunning tap dances were complete with colorful costumes to catch the eye of an enthralled audience. All the while the score played by a large orchestra progressed in a fluid, pleasing manner. These well choreographed, strong musically backed, and beautifully performed numbers left the audience applauding all the way through the seamless scene changes. In many ways the technical aspects and the way in which the production embraced the potential for stage works seemed to purpose as a shield to the play’s uninteresting nature and simply set a charming atmosphere.

Although successful in stirring laughs from a portion of the crowd, the old-timey humor geared toward adults slid right over the heads of young audience members. In addition, long dialogue and a bland plot along with the excessively long opening overture are part of the countless aspects that also failed to retain the attention of the entire family for the two hour and thirty minute performance duration. For the many children and grandchildren squirming in their seats, it just wasn’t all that intriguing.

For some, the enchanting visual and auditory aspects may have been enough to shield the mind from the adaptation’s dull and predictable plot, outdated humor, and lengthy amount of time to which it preceded Christmas. Not yet numbed by the holiday spirit, I personally found it difficult to fully enjoy this so-called ‘family’ oriented show and would not recommend it. For the appropriate audience though, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas could understandably serve as an enchanting, heart-warming memoir and in some cases not too soon to foster anticipation for the holiday season.