Wear sunglasses as you enter the Kennedy Center Opera House for Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Otherwise you might be blinded by the decked-out crowds, dressed head to toe in red suits and sparkling Christmas sweater sets.
It’s a festive occasion: the seasonal entrance of a classic film-made-musical that includes beloved tunes like “Blue Skies,” “Happy Holiday,” “Snow,” and of course “White Christmas.” Fortunately for audience members young and old alike, no one near me wore distracting jingle bell earrings, although a few people came awfully close with light up, Rudolph nose cuff links.
Also fortunate for us, the crowd’s costumes didn’t outdo the show we were about to see. White Christmas at the Kennedy Center is wondrous spectacle of a bygone era—an era that never really existed, but is at least an incredibly happy place.
The show features the fine voices of James Clow as Bob Wallace (the role Bing Crosby originated in the 1954 film) and Stephanie Morse as Betty Haynes, along with the electric song and dance love duo of Phil Davis and Judy Haynes, played by David Elder and Mara Davi.
The story hangs to the rest of the show by a thread, inching along as a mechanism only for transmitting song after happy-go-lucky song. Taken closely from the original film, the plot deals with two couples as they meander through a series of obstacles while trying to launch a variety show in a struggling Vermont inn. If you’ve seen the film, this version is as whitewashed and cheesy as you remember. It is—pardon the reference—just like the one you used to know.
Nevertheless, no one seems to notice nothing actually happens in this 1950s dreamworld. The four leads sparkle literally and figuratively throughout, despite the story’s lack of depth. The ensemble is simply spectacular and steals the show with superb song and dance in numbers like “Snow” and “I Love a Piano.” The cast’s tap skills in particular are jaw-dropping, and Elder and Davi’s graceful gliding feels familiar—almost like an old holiday movie you’ve seen many times before…
If only the scene transitions were as graceful as the dancing. The design and implementation of the many set pieces, with the same curtain falling at the end of nearly every song, felt repetitive and clunky. It became a distraction as actors tried to maneuver whole dance numbers in front of the curtain so the crew could prepare the next scene.
Still, White Christmas is as merry and bright as its title song wishes, and no where does it sparkle more than in the finale. As the Christmas scene turns white with snow, audiences bask in the iconic image of the cast in red suits and ball gowns, ushering in Christmas Day with unrestrained joy.
Sure, in reality those ball gowns would never suffice in a Vermont barn during a snowstorm. Sure, real people couldn’t possibly have fallen in love so fast, or put on a Broadway show in 5 days at a remote rural inn. But as a transparent screen falls in front of the set, the cast disappears into a nostalgic mist and we realize we aren’t there for reality. We’re there to see something happy, and beautiful, and better than real life—and this holiday season more than ever, that’s something worth the price of admission.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs through January 6, 2013 at the Opera House at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Kennedy Center is located at 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566. Closest Metro stop: Foggy Bottom/GWU (Orange/Blue line). For more information call 202-467-4600.