In Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the nostalgic, classic story provides a lovely reminder that the holidays are the perfect time to count life’s many blessings.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas musical endears itself to an audience with a classic appeal that makes it almost timeless. While other holiday performances rely on splashy characters or silly gags, this holiday show focuses on the gratitude that can sometimes be forgotten during the hectic holiday season. From the classic carols to a rousing dance number, the audience cannot hide their smiles.
During the holiday season, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas tours across the U.S. in conjunction with Broadway Across America. Currently playing at Dr. Phillips Center, in Orlando, Florida, the current cast makes this lighthearted musical quite enjoyable. From the spirited dance numbers to the iconic songs, the audience wants to embrace the holiday spirit that the cast projects. Even the biggest Grinch would be pressed not to tap his toe or sing along.
This musical is an adaptation of the classic movie musical, White Christmas. While the storyline might be set in the past, many of the story’s poignant moments are even more relevant today. From counting life’s many blessings to finding love, these truths are even more important in today’s turbulent times.
As a guest on the opening night performance at Dr. Phillips Center, the audience seemed to desire a night to celebrate the holiday spirit. Even though Orlando may not have a traditional white Christmas, it felt as if everyone wanted, even needed, a little bit of the holiday magic in the room. With the orchestra striking the first notes, it was as if everyone was ready to embrace the nostalgic story and songs that people know so well.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the Musical, Photo: Jeremy Daniel, photo provided by Dr. Phillips Center
Looking at the show as a whole, this production finds a lovely balance between old school musical numbers and quiet moments that tug at an audience’s heart strings. The large scale dance and tap numbers impress with both precision and exuberance. As Phil (Jeremy Benton) and Judy (Kelly Sheehan) seem to float and fly across the stage, it is a wonder how they can catch their breath to sing. Watching the actors make these numbers look effortless (which is far from reality) is a statement to their talent.
Beyond the colorful sets and vibrant costumes, the actors seem to shine in the subtler moments. Gone are the big, belting Broadway show tunes that people come to expect from many modern musicals. Instead, the subtleties in a song are celebrated. When Bob (Sean Montgomery) sings with Susan (Emma Grace Berardelli) “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” the audience is compelled to reflect on that simple, yet profound ideal. Bob doesn’t lecture or scold; his voice is poignant, yet hopeful. Each note is a reminder that life is full of many blessings. More importantly, they shouldn’t be overlooked for less important generalities.
That ideal of counting your blessings seems to be interwoven into the entire show. Whether it is Martha showcasing her powerful voice or Waverly talking to his former soldiers, the musical is a reminder that a life well lived is momentous and should be celebrated. Although the average person doesn’t break into song and dance, a quiet moment of reflection, both at the holidays and beyond, can be a very good thing.
While not the main character of the show, Waverly (Conrad John Schuck) seems to have the biggest arc. The once tough, orderly general sheds that exterior, to the delight of his granddaughter and friends. It might be the classic holiday plot, but it still endears itself to the audience.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the Musical Photo: Jeremy Daniel, photo provided by Dr. Phillips Center
Watching this production was a lovely reminder of how many classic songs have woven their way into common vernacular. From “Blue Skies” to “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” these iconic songs have stood the test of time because the sentiment rings true. Everyone wants to have a positive outcome. People want to fall in love. That happy ending shouldn’t be just a fairy tale.
While many people today turn to the never-ending, modern holiday movies on the Hallmark Channel, White Christmas started that storyline years ago. From the first spark of love to the misunderstanding to the eventual happy ending, this piece of holiday nostalgia will never get old. Even more importantly, it can leave an impact long after the last piece of snow melts.
Since Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is becoming a holiday tradition, it wouldn’t be complete without encouraging the audience to sing along with a classic Christmas carol. At the holidays, even the most off-pitched singer (apologies to anyone sitting by me) is overlooked during the carol singing. As the show comes to a close, that moment of holiday spirit is a reminder of the simplicity of the season. Gathering people, both family and strangers, together in a moment of happiness is the point of the holiday season.
After seeing this production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, my real wish isn’t for a snow covered holiday. I wish for the true meaning of this musical, time to celebrate the blessings of family, friends, good health, and a life well lived. Isn’t that the truest holiday blessing?