How do you feel about artificial Christmas trees?
Because your attitude toward faux firs may be an indicator of whether you would enjoy Theatre Arlington’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,.
And that’s not a slam. A lot of fake trees are gorgeous. It is just that since this musical is based on a corny, old-fashioned film from long ago, this production (and all who choose to see it) must embrace the inherent artificiality of its source material.
This musical, which is built with Berlin’s songs and a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, is based on the 1954 movie that was created to capitalize on the popularity of the indelible title carol, which was first crooned by Bing Crosby at the end of the 1942 film Holiday Inn.
It tells the story of two World War II army buddies who in pursuit of a pair of fetching singing sisters, take their successful postwar song and dance act to a Vermont ski resort that is (what a coincidence!) owned by their former commanding officer, Gen. Henry Waverly (Warren Spencer).
On arrival, Bob Wallace (Jordan Pratt) and Phil Davis (Branden Loera) learn that the inn is suffering from a lack of snow and capital. So faster than you can say, “Hey kids! Let’s do a show!” they set themselves to the task of saving the crusty old warrior’s business while romancing the warbling siblings, Judy (Joanna Philips) and Betty Haynes (Becca Brown).
Do you think the former soldiers will be victorious on either front? If you can’t answer that question, put that cup of eggnog down right now.
This production, directed by Lindy Heath Davis, is highly respectful of the tone and texture of the film’s times. It embraces the somewhat stiff artificiality of the original and makes little effort to modernize or naturalize any of it. But because Davis is consistent in that vision, it is a perfectly valid approach.
Among the standout performances is Philips’ Judy. Her brightly accented acting and singing are as sharp and clear as stars on a December night. And she has an able partner in Brown, whose vocals are especially well crafted. Pratt has a limited vocal range, but his phrasing is superb and he is wise enough not to take his voice places it has no business going. He and the company especially shine in Blue Skies, the show’s best production number, which nicely showcases the show’s choreography by Persis Ann Forster.
Cathy Pritchett, as the smart-mouthed innkeeper, Martha, gives the show its best comic moments and sings her part admirably. But while her timing and delivery are as sharp as an ice skate blade, her breath control needs improvement.
Also of note are the cute, giggling chorines, Rita (Kristin McQuaid) and Rhoda (Angela Germany), who play their parts with giddy glee. George Sepulveda III, as the slow-talking handyman, Jimmy, provides some slothful laughs.
The costuming, by Ric Dreumont Leal, and the set design, by Tony Curtis, joyously capture the 1950s period and the season. And the sisters’ gowns are particularly stunning.
There is plenty of retro fun in this intentionally contrived production, which is sung to a recorded score and adds some boost from the soundboard to its amplified vocals. It may not be anything new. But then neither is Christmas.