Only a few thousand Texans caught a glimpse of the snow showers that fell in November. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas debuted at Bass Performance Hall on November 14, tolling in yuletide favorites, such as “Snow,” “Happy Holiday,” and “White Christmas.” Another Broadway at the Bass production bids us to observe how a relatively young production adapts from film to stage, an especially perilous feat considering how well Paramount Pictures won over the purest of hearts and the purists at heart in 1954.
On Christmas Eve in 1944, two army buddies, Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), clown around, putting on a good show for a dozen or so Dear Johns before being interrupted by Gen. Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck). Scene 2 skips ahead 10 years to find Wallace and Davis starring on The Ed Sullivan Show. As the more free-spirited flirt, Davis pursues Judy Haynes (Kelly Sheehan), one half of a two-part sister act, while trying to set up the other half, Betty Haynes (Kerry Conte), with Wallace. When that romantic arrangement topples over, the former pair of turtledoves devises a plan to try once more at a Vermont inn owned by the general, but the lack of snow and cashflow tangles the tinsel of everyone and the inn manager Martha Watson (Karen Ziemba). Sweet relief eventually comes from the smallest one onstage, the general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly (Bella Yantis), and a quick coldsnap.
Of all the lords a leaping and ladies dancing onstage, Benton and Sheehan performed a tap number that stole the show. At the start of the second act, the duo scuffed and shuffle-stepped to “I Love a Piano,” seemingly floating in dream-like magenta clouds that resonated with my recent memories of a La La Land. But enough about Damien Chazelle already. If you weren’t too familiar with Berlin’s classic, you might’ve guessed our golden boy was Benton, whose charisma kept attention on this more static character role. Montgomery is not without his strengths as a singer and performer, but he’s no Bing Crosby, which would be an unfair comparison if Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank hadn’t wanted it that way. Montgomery and Conte matched each other in terms of character development, but no one expected Ziemba to be a breakout star in her role –– she put her Tony where her mouth is, to say the least. In contrast, as the tiniest thespian, Yantis sent us simmering over her sugary disposition, never missing a line or a note.
Traditionalists will appreciate the enterprising use of dolly sliders to recreate scenes that stretch into two locations at once, like in the latter parts of the first act, when a telephone call slid us into the Ed Sullivan Show’s office at house left and the inn switchboard at house right. The flats forming the inn lobby added warmth to a relatively open stage floor plan, and a cross-section of a mid-century train car made quite the cozy impression as the ensemble piled in to sing “Snow,” made complete with mitted jazz hands. The costuming was authentic to the era, too, with lustrous fabrics and sheath-dress patterns swinging around in several variations, and even Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen’s signature blue feather fans made a wistful appearance in “Sisters,” a favorite number that did not disappoint.
The aesthetic de la semaine, of course, was the cloud of white flurries falling all over the stage. Before the first curtain was raised, gobo lighting cast snowflakes the size of a column spinning in circles, and tiny paper squares fluttered to the floor toward the end of the show. The audience was in for a blizzard of a surprise, though, when in the last few moments blowers blasted viewers with teeny soap bubbles that glistened exactly like the look of a snow squall traversing streetlamp light.
Of all the classics in our holiday canon, this film-to-stage adaptation delivers more than the archetypal take on Vermont’s favorite Christmas film — without sacrificing quality of set design or storyline. Masterful direction and choreography by Randy Skinner add a new sparkle of personality to this show, which locals can fall for one more time in Dallas this weekend.
Thru Dec 10 at Dallas Summer Musicals, 909 First Av, Dallas. $20-130. 214-691-7200.