The week after Halloween feels a bit early to be heading off to a big Christmas extravaganza, but with holiday commercials displacing the political ads on TV and decorations decking the malls, it’s not as if “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Fox Theatre is the only premature celebration around. Based, sometimes a little more loosely than you might expect, on the beloved 1954 movie, “WC” is a Theater of the Stars production making its debut in Atlanta, then moving out for several stops on a short national tour.
“White Christmas” wasn’t converted into a stage musical until 2004, and this version, with tweaks, has been running during the holidays since. The plot is pretty much what you remember from the movie, but the adapters have played around with the songs. “Mandy” (with its attendant minstrel show, which does not work any more), “Choreography” and “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” have been cut.
Several Berlin songs have been imported, including “I Love a Piano,” “Blue Skies” and “Let Yourself Go,” all of which get big tap-dance numbers, “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” (a pleasant curtain call) and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” an enjoyably quirky number from the very obscure show “Miss Liberty.” That still leaves the ones everyone wants to hear: “Count Your Blessings,” “Sisters,” “The Old Man” and the title track.
For a lot of people, the movie version of “White Christmas” is such a cozy holiday tradition — better loved than some of your relatives — that it’s difficult to consider it critically. But if you can turn a cold eye on it, you might notice that the two main characters, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney), actually generate all the excitement of unwrapping socks from your great-aunt. Or that the corny little jokes have not aged well, if they were ever funny to begin with.
Sacrilege, I know. Sacrilege. But those flaws are even more obvious in the stage version, which can bog down when it isn’t throwing the whole cast into a tap-dancing frenzy.
John Scherer and Amy Bodnar (above and at left), as Bob and Betty, both have excellent voices, but they can’t break these characters out of their snow globes. Denis Lambert and Shannon M. O’Bryan as the secondary couple, Phil and Judy (Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen in the movie), have more to work with, including some fun choreography, and fare better.
The two characters who really pop onstage are Gen. Waverly’s innkeeper Martha and his granddaughter Susan, thanks to re-writing them brighter, and the actresses who play them (Ruth Williamson as Martha, Mary Peeples as Susan on opening night, who shares the role with Gianna Lepera). Both get little show-stopping bits that aren’t in the movie, and make the audience feel like they’re getting their money’s worth.