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Paulanne Simmons

New Jersey Has a "White Christmas"


"White Christmas"
Directed by Marc Bruni
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
Opening Nov. 16, 2011
8 times a week, Wed. thru Sun., check papermill.org for special holiday schedules
Tickets: $25 (973) 376-4343 or www.papermill.org
Closes Dec. 24, 2011
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 20, 2011
Erickson, From left to right: Jill Paice (Betty Haynes), James Clow (Bob Wallace), Tony Yazbeck (Phil Davis), Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes) and The Company of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Photo by T. Charles.

The Irving Berlin show "White Christmas" began life as a 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney. But the song "White Christmas" had been introduced twelve years earlier in the film "Holiday," where it was also sung by Bing Crosby.

Crosby’s recording sold over million records and remained #1 on the pop R&B charts for ten weeks. For more than fifty years it was the best selling single in any music category. So by the time the movie came around, the song, as well as the idea of longing for a snowy Christmas, was classic.

Paper Mill Playhouse’s revival, directed by Marc Bruni, is a tribute not only to the show but also to the entire era that produced the American songbook.

For anyone who does not know the plot, it revolves around two World War II army buddies, Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (Tony Yazbeck), who become a song-and-dance team after the war. When they discover that the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, run by their former commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (Edward James Hyland) is about to go bankrupt because the lack of snow has left the inn empty during the holiday season, they decide to help him out.

With the assistance of singing sisters Judy (Meredith Paterson) and Betty (Jill Paice); the innkeeper’s manager, Martha Watson (Lorna Luft); and his granddaughter, Susan (Andie Mechanic, at certain performances Samantha Kelleher), Bob and Phil stage a show (rehearsed in the barn) to which all their army buddies are invited.

There are several misunderstandings which endanger the show and the various romances. But in the end, love and common sense triumph. And to no one’s surprise, it snows!

From left to right: Jill Paice (Betty Haynes), Meredith Patterson (Judy Haynes) and The Company of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Photo by T. Charles.

The star power of the Paper Mill production comes from Lorna Luft, who is the long-suffering and loyal Martha Watson. In the voice of Luft, the daughter of producer Sid Luft and Judy Garland, many will hear echoes of her legendary mother (to say nothing of her sister, Liza Minnelli). But Luft is also a fine singer and actress in her own right.

This is the fourth time Luft has performed in "White Christmas." So by now she has the role of the wise-cracking, down-to-earth Martha totally mastered. She’s also backed by the charismatic Clow and Yazbeck, and the sassy Paterson and Paice, all with terrific voices.

Anna Louizos’s set provides all the homey comfort we associate with New England, alternating nicely with the glitz required in the nightclub scenes.

The reality is that New York City and its environs seldom see a white Christmas. But this year we have Paper Mill Playhouse’s wonderful revival of Berlin’s classic to more than comfort us for this shortfall.


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