Irving Berlin’s White Christmas

Pioneer Theatre

December, 2010


“White Christmas is an absolute delight.”

“There are few things in life on which you can depend.  So let it be known that Irving Berlin is one of them.  Honestly. . .  with the swells of “White Christmas” come the swells of goose bumps – every time.  Put Berlin’s music in the very capable hands of music director Michael Horsley, who’s conducting a 17-piece orchestra, and Pioneer Theatre Company’s Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is about a sure thing as one can get.

“From the elegantly colorful costumes (K.L. Alberts) to the brilliant choreography (Dirk Lumbard), the top-notch cast to the sure direction (Paul Mason Barnes), this is a holiday offering worthy of Santa’s “nice” list.

“The real standout is Barnes’ ensemble.  A group of spirited dancers that bring joy to every number. . .  truly some of the best group dance numbers I’ve seen.

“Let Yourself Go” and “Blue Skies” are superb, and “I Love a Piano” is how every Act II should begin.

“PTC’s production is not to be missed by anyone looking for a little bit of a homey Christmas warmth.”

    Erica Hansen

    Deseret News

“Pioneer’s White Christmas is a holiday crowd pleaser.”

“Costumes, sets, cast, choreography top off PTC’s production.

“Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “White Christmas” is a big holiday present of a musical.

“George Maxwell’s multitude of colorful sets, from the warm wood of its Vermont inn and barn with a giant Christmas tree and twinkling wreaths to the elegant Regency Room with its stylized Manhattan-skyline backdrop, vividly create the scene.  K.L. Alberts’ costumes are stylish and sophisticated, especially in the elaborate production numbers like ‘I Love a Piano,’ where the black-and-white, piano-keyed outfits of the ensemble reverse the pattern of Phil and Judy’s costumes, and ‘Blue Skies,’ where Bob’s white suit and hat counterpoint the blue tops and white skits and pants that the chorus wears.  Phil Monat’s versatile lighting shifts easily from bright to atmospheric spotlighting.

“Dirk Lumbard’s high-energy choreography features lots of tap dancing, and the show overflows with classic Irving Berlin songs, [including] the perennially popular title song, all accompanied by a full orchestra conducted by adept musical director Michael Horsley.

“One of the hallmarks of Paul Barnes’ direction is fluid scene transitions, and White Christmas has plenty of them.  Songs and music bridge scenes seamlessly; often singers simply step forward, the set vanishes behind them, and they move into a new scene.

“With its classic American musical structure, White Christmas is on the sentimental side, but the energy, enthusiasm and high spirits of this production carry it effortlessly along.  It’s a Christmas present the entire family can share.”

    Barbara Bannon

    Salt Lake Tribune


What I learned. . .

I often think people who are snobs about musical theatre are simply short-sighted.  Everything I have learned from working on plays by Shakespeare pays off when I direct a musical, perhaps more than ever in

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.  With Shakespeare it’s always about never letting the language drop except at specific, carefully selected moments.  The minute the language stops, you’re in trouble. The same rule applies to musicals, where the music is the language.

PTC’s theatre is a large proscenium house in which it’s possible to track and fly scenery, so the basic “in one” principle gets a real workout whenever the company produces traditional musicals.  I looked for the key change in the music which usually signals heightened stakes and provides a natural time to  break the actor (or actors) away from the scenery, bring them downstage closer to the audience and into greater isolation so that scenery can roll or fly on and off upstage of them.  I abhor going to blackout for scene changes except when absolutely necessary -- just seems to interrupt fluid storytelling and tends to bring the action to a screeching halt – so we worked hard to make sure that actors were in place for each subsequent scene along with the scenery itself.

But the real lesson was in surrounding myself with a first-rate team of collaborators, which Chuck Morey provided.  Excellent designers, plus Michael Horsley, who had been instrumental in developing White Christmas at the Muny in St. Louis, and Dirk Lumbard, whose choreography was inspired.  Dirk himself was inspirational.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group of dancers work harder and more happily in what were demanding, often grueling rehearsals.  They – along with a stellar group of principal actors -- really catapulted the show to greater heights than I think any of us had envisioned when we set to work.  Once again: lucky, lucky me.