(Disclaimer – I was provided complimentary tickets to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas by Des Moines Performing Arts)
There’s nothing that puts me in a great mood better than the holiday season. The beautiful decorations, the music, giving to my family and friends, and Christmas specials all make the season bright. One of the most timeless holiday films is “White Christmas,” released in 1954 and starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. I have to admit that I only first saw the movie adaptation just last year. I hate to say that despite being a Christmas-oriented film, I didn’t care too much for it. It’s not because it’s outdated by any stretch. I just didn’t care for the film.
Coming in to see “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the Des Moines Civic Center, I was a bit apprehensive because I wasn’t a fan of the film. The good part about the show itself is that the bones of the story are there. However, there have been many liberties taken and several parts of the plot changed to fit the musical.
I do enjoy the basic story of the film and the musical. Army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are talented singers and dancers and pursue a career after their service in the army is finished. Ten years after the war, Wallace and Davis are a well-known duo, playing packed theaters and the even the Ed Sullivan Show. Another army friend asks them to check out his talented sisters for possible inclusion in their act. Upon meeting the sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, Phil is smitten with Judy, but Bob and Betty take a while to warm up to one another. The men travel with the sisters to Vermont to play at an inn which they discover is being run by their formal General, Henry Waverly. When it’s discovered that the inn is in financial trouble, it’s up to the talented singers to bail out the inn and save the day.
While the film follows that storyline, the musical takes several liberties and changes some key parts to the film. Many of the parts changed directly involve the General. As someone that has only seen the film once, these changes weren’t as noticeable to me, but to the mega fans, they were deal breakers for the musical.
There are some great performances in White Christmas. All four lead actors do a very nice job in their respective roles. Anyone that doesn’t like Grace Matwijec’s performance as Susie Waverly is just dead inside (some may also see Shannon Harrington). There’s plenty of laughs during the show and great dancing. There’s also a marvelous tap dancing sequence to start the second act that had the crowd entranced. Timeless songs like “Sisters” and “Happy Holiday” are peppered throughout the show. As you can imagine, the show’s title song is also a show stopper at the conclusion of the performance. I found myself most enjoying the performance of “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
For the lifelong fans of the film, this is not the same White Christmas you remember. But, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be an enjoyable night at the theater. “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is at the Des Moines Civic Center through Sunday, December 15th.