Dec 19, 2012 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
A beloved and heartwarming musical based on a movie that was based on a popular holiday song is now playing through Dec. 30, at Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St., in Syracuse. Inspired on the 1954 feature film “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” the show’s title tune is itself a timeless holiday treasure, a sweet celebration in song.
Recorded in 1942 by Bing Crosby, “White Christmas” harkens back to a time when the simplest pleasures mattered most. The show’s plot has its roots in World War II as two successful showmen join forces to help out their old Army commander. Along the way they find, lose and rediscover romance, enjoy plenty of laughs and demonstrate what loyalty really means.
The composer, Irving Berlin — who had been raised in an orthodox Jewish home on New York City’s Lower East Side — learned to love Christmas. Ever since 1926 when Berlin married Ellin MacKay, a Roman Catholic, Christmas became an important part of their family life.
According to Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, authors of the recent book “America’s Songs: The Stories Behind the Songs of Broadway, Hollywood and Tin Pan Alley,” by Philip Furia and Michael Lasser, the song “White Christmas” was composed in a state known for its sunshine. During the holidays in 1937, the authors write, Berlin was forced to stay in Hollywood working on the film Alexander’s Ragtime Band while his family celebrated in New York. So he decided to write a Christmas song. He started a verse about the warm weather in Beverly Hills and he imagined a sad carol sung by a group of sophisticates who — while enjoying cocktails and cigarettes — reminisced about the Christmases of their youth. That evening Berlin completed the now-famous number.
“America’s Songs” is available at the Motto Sheet Music Collection at Fayetteville Free Library; 637-6374, ext. 328; firstname.lastname@example.org.
The earliest known public performance of “White Christmas” was on Christmas Day, 1941, when Bing Crosby sang the ballad on NBC radio’s The Kraft Music Hall. He recorded it for Decca at a session with the John Scott Trotter Orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers, and the song was featured in the 1942 movie Holiday Inn co-starring Fred Astaire.
By invoking the emotions which naturally surface around cherished family holidays, “White Christmas” struck a chord with soldiers and sailors spending a lonely Christmas overseas. Its deft mix of melancholy — “just like the ones I used to know” — with comforting images of home — “where the treetops glisten” — resonated strongly with listeners.
In a 2009 article in the Wall Street Journal, critic Roy Harris Jr. described the song’s timeless appeal:
“It was a peaceful song that became a wartime classic. Its unorthodox, melancholy melody — and mere 54 words, expressing the simple yearning for a return to happier times — sounded instantly familiar when sung by America’s favorite crooner. But 67 years after its introduction, some still are surprised to learn that Bing Crosby’s recording of the Irving Berlin ballad ‘White Christmas’ became not only the runaway smash-hit for the World War II holidays, but the best-selling record of all time.”
Research by The Guinness Book of World Records indicates that “White Christmas” sold more than 50 million copies as compared to the second-sellingest single of all-time, Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” which moved 33 million units.
Crosby’s version of the song was ranked No. 2 on the “Songs of the Century” list compiled in 2001 by the Recording Industry Association of America, second only to Judy Garland’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
The 1954 film production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and showcased marvelous Berlin tunes including “Blue Skies,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” and “Happy Holidays.”
Paul Barnes, the director of Syracuse Stage’s White Christmas, is staging plenty of dance routines to complement the memorable music. Barnes and his cast are working with choreographer David Wanstreet and musical director Christopher Drobny. The 13-member pit band features some of the best musicians in the area including trumpeter Jeff Stockham, saxophonist Joe Carello and violinists Joe Davoli and Sara Mastrangelo.
The musical is anchored here by eight professional actors with significant credits: Denis Lambert, who portrays Bob Wallace, played the role of Phil Davis in a national tour of White Christmas; Craig Waletzko as Phil Davis has appeared on Broadway in Guys and Dolls; Zakiya Young as Betty Haynes appeared on the Great White Way in The Little Mermaid; Mary Michael Patterson as Judy Haynes appeared on a Broadway in Anything Goes). Rounding out the Equity cast are Mary Jo Mecca, John Shuman, James Van Treuren and Duke Lafoon.
Twenty students from Syracuse University’s Drama Department portray additional characters in several spectacular dance and choral numbers. Completing the cast is 13-year-old Fayetteville actress Jacqueline Baum last seen at Syracuse Stage as Helen Keller in the 2011 production of The Miracle Worker. She plays Susan in White Christmas.
Single-ticket prices range between $30 and $54; and $20 for students age 18 and younger; rush tickets may be sold at certain shows for $20 and $25. Senior discounts are available at most performances 443-9844; syracusestage.org.