NEW YORK - Proudly old-fashioned and decorated with enough sock-'em production numbers to run from Advent through New Year's,
is this season's big gift-wrapped Broadway package.
The stage adaptation of one of film's most beloved holiday confections, launched four seasons ago in San Francisco, opened Sunday night at the Marquis Theatre for a limited run. Like the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen, the stage show is fueled by a pastiche of Irving Berlin songs originally composed for different shows and movies. (The title song was itself a dozen years old when the movie came out, having been introduced in the film
Most of the film's sweet songs, like "Sisters" and "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," remain. And there are some great additions, like "Blue Skies," which ends the first half in a furious storm of hoofing that's downright liberating to watch. But not even this unabashedly retro show could find room for the movie's paean to minstrel shows. (It was not racially offensive, just dumb.)
The production, directed by Walter Bobbie, is a guilty holiday pleasure. I smiled through much of the hokey stage-show book by David Ives and Paul Blake, with its wordplay and old-fashioned cool talk. She (addressing a romantic false start): "Sometimes, the twain wasn't meant to meet." He (responding): "Sometimes, the twain doesn't get out of the station."
Before dismissing such stuff, remember that it's been dropped into dialogue straight from the film - lines like: "I smell an angle. Skip the scam." Add the new lines to the old, and the newly inserted songs to the film's core music, and you come up with two hours of undeniable fun from another American age.
This let's-put-on-a-show show comes with high energy both on stage and behind it. Anna Louizos' complex set designs cover umpteen ever-changing locations. Carrie Robbins' costumes are their own holiday treats, harking back to a time when women's legs were meant to be dotted by sequins and men's bright green shoes perfectly matched their dancing suits. Randy Skinner's choreography sparkles - particularly his tap work; the cast brings it off as if everyone were connected to one mammoth tap.
The lead performers deliver Berlin's swell songs with an obvious passion for the lyrics. The charismatic Stephen Bogardus (here, he even resembles a young Bing Crosby) and Jeffry Denman are the two performers, Army veterans who create a show to get their retired commander out of financial straits; Kerry O'Malley and Meredith Patterson are wonderfully girlish as their love interests. Charles Dean is the retired officer and Susan Mansur the busybody who tries to keep them all in line.
The entire production strikes a perfect tone for a big-deal Broadway holiday show. The first cold spell came early, but it was no match for
on the frigid night I saw it. The show transmits a penetrating warmth, like sipping hot cider on a crisp December night.