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Classic White Christmas pure entertainment
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Classic White Christmas pure entertainment

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

White Christmas
5th Avenue Theatre
Through December 30


White Christmas is the classic 1954 film starring Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, with music and lyrics by the great showman, Irving Berlin. In 2004, following the trend of musical theater, a stage adaptation was created in San Francisco - and, as they say, the rest is history. The show became a holiday classic. First mounted by the 5th Avenue Theatre three years ago, White Christmas is back in Seattle and spreading its holiday cheer.

The story begins on Christmas Eve in 1944 and centers around two showmen, Bob Wallace (Michael Gruber) and Phil Davis (Greg McCormick Allen), currently serving in the US Army. After the war, the men successfully go into show business, and 10 years later are regular performers on The Ed Sullivan Show. Checking out a new cabaret act, the men meet Betty and Judy Haynes (Christina Saffran Ashford and Taryn Darr). In true '50s Hollywood fashion, they fall in love and change all of their plans so they can work together at a ski lodge for the holidays.

What they don't know is that the Ski Lodge in Pine Tree, Vermont is going through a heat wave, and there's no snow. Inn owner General Henry Waverly (Frank Corrado) is a semi-melancholy man unhappy about the weather and non-existing business at his establishment who also happens to be the boys' former commander. Faster than you can say, "Let's put on a show in the barn" (you're way ahead of me), the group decides to boost their friend's morale and reunite the General's men for one last hurrah.

The lead roles are done well without being shadows of their cellular predecessors. Michael Gruber's crooning style embraces each song, especially the softer ones like "Counting your Blessings" or "Blue Skies." Greg McCormick Allen's dancing is pure enjoyment. He moves around the stage with an agility that seems to come naturally.

It's the strength in the female leads that carry this production. The duet "Sisters" by Christina Saffran Ashrod and Taryn Darr is not only comical, but a listening delight as the two women harmonize perfectly. While it's unfortunate that Taryn Darr doesn't get any solos, the song "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" allows Christina Saffran Ashrod's voice to ring out with heart-sinking sincerity before meshing into a beautiful duet with Michael Gruber's "How Deep is the Ocean." The role of Martha Watson (Carol Swarbrick) has been expanded from the innkeeper's concierge and comical busybody and now includes a song-and-dance history and an additional Irving Berlin song that is belted out with comic style and wonderful voice. This character not only adds humor to the show, she also adds in the hint of a romance with the General.

Most of the songs have transferred to the musical, including "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Snow," "Sisters" (both versions), and of course the title song, among others. The controversial "I Love a Minstrel Show" number was cut from the stage production, not having survived the politically correct views of the 21st century. The songs are all toe-tapping and will bring a smile to a child's face while being a fond reminiscence for anyone older. At the end, the audience is invited to join in singing the title song before being lightly dusted with snow. No matter how you look at it, this show is fun. It's unabashed escapism and pure entertainment.

The original film starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as the two showmen (Wallace and Davis) and Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney as the Haynes Sisters. The veteran character actress Mary Wicke created the role of Martha Watson, while the choreography (uncredited) goes to the great impresario Bob Fosse. It became a box office hit, ranking it the second highest earning film of 1954.

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