'White Christmas' brings joy, even now

The cast of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" brings The cast of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" brings the season to the Patchogue Theatre for the Performing Arts beginning Dec. 14, 2012, in a Gateway Playhouse production. Photo Credit: Gateway Playhouse

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REVIEW

I'm not a humbug kind of guy. But in my gloomy frame of mind last weekend, I was predisposed to dislike "Irving Berlin's White Christmas."

My mood had nothing to do with the actors or Gateway Playhouse producers. And certainly not Berlin. It had everything to do with the obscene incongruity of the holidays against the headlines emanating from Connecticut. But when 11-year-old Alison Cordaro of Ridge defiantly belted out "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," it was a powerful cue that it's OK to enjoy ourselves. (Rebecca Goldfarb alternates in the child role of Susan.)

Truth is, I was already beginning to warm to this musical, inspired by two tepid films -- 1942's "Holiday Inn" and 1954's "White Christmas" -- enhanced by additions from the Berlin songbook. Like its predecessors, this isn't strictly a holiday show. It's the story of two wartime Army buddies who go on to Broadway stardom. But after learning that their general is failing financially with his Vermont resort hotel, they come to the rescue with a musical and a full house. Along the way, they enlist two showgirl sisters who, of course, capture their hearts.

But romance requires obstacles. So we find that Phil, played with a carefree sense of mischief by Matthew LaBanca, is a song-and-dance guy in more ways than one. His eyes wander past the adoring gaze of blond sis Judy (Alissa Alter), a girl-next-door who hoofs like a pro. Bob is the serious type. Christopher Vettel supplies him with enough gravitas that we're surprised when he lightens up to sing "Love and the Weather" and deliver a "Count Your Blessings" lullaby to little Susan. That's enough to melt Betty, frostily played by Trista Moldovan, who reveals her torch for Bob on "How Deep Is the Ocean."

Complications arise involving the general -- a crusty Steve Brady -- and his busybody singing concierge Martha (Beth Glover).

Director David Ruttura brings these disparate threads together in a flowing tapestry woven on Anna Louizos' original 2008 Broadway set. Nathan Perry's 10-piece orchestra sets the pace for re-creating Randy Skinner's original '40s-style choreography (think Fred and Ginger) executed by Mary Giattino's lithe dance team -- especially on Act II's "I Love a Piano" opener.

"White Christmas" makes it OK to smile again, through tears, while singing along: "I'm dreaming ..."

 

THE DETAILS

WHAT "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," book by David Ives and Paul Blake

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. today and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, 3 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, through Dec. 30, Patchogue Theatre, 71 E. Main St.

TICKETS $53-$59; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133

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