When Irving Berlin wrote the song “White Christmas” for his 1942 film “Holiday Inn, ” the story goes that he was expecting “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” the Valentine’s Day number, to be the big hit. Bing Crosby never saw the popularity of “White Christmas” coming either—he reportedly laid down the track that remains the best-selling single of all time in eighteen minutes—but it was Crosby gently crooning to a country newly navigating its way through the horrors and sacrifices of World War II that ended up nostalgically reminding everybody of exactly what we were fighting for in the first place.
Ironically, though “Holiday Inn” was made during the war, the film itself exists in a utopian non-war vacuum aside from a patriotic montage of troops, weaponry and FDR shown during the Fourth of July sequence. Thus, its lavish, widescreen and Technicolor remake twelve years later made sure to refocus the attention and title on its breakout song, “White Christmas,” and that song’s own nostalgic relation to the war itself now that the country had successfully achieved victory, peace, stability and prosperity with weapons that had included songs to inspire both the front lines and the home front.
The musical “White Christmas” attempts to offer a stage version of the 1954 film, deleting some numbers and adding other better-known Irving Berlin songs but basically relating the same story of a post-war general (David Lively) who is running a Vermont inn that is in trouble because of a December heat wave that is keeping the snow and the skiers away. The general gets help from a couple of his former men (Andy Lupp and Rod Thomas) who are seen entertaining the troops during the war at the show’s beginning and who just happen to be huge stars now chasing down a duo of sisters (Tammy Mader and Stephanie Binetti) who also have an act. The general’s granddaughter is no longer a minor teen character as she was in the movie but a Broadway-belting little girl (Kate Wild and Madison Olszewski alternating the role) who makes Annie sound subtle. The housekeeper is an Ethel Merman wannabe (Arlene Robertson) who also gets in her share of songs.
Director and choreographer Marc Robin has taken great care to ensure that even the smallest role in the show is well taken care of and that unlike the faux fifties manner of the national touring production that Broadway In Chicago brought to town, these characterizations are three-dimensional. Although the singing ranges from serviceable to very good—and in the case of Arlene Robertson, show-stopping—it is the dance element that most shines here, particularly the duets of Tammy Mader and Andy Lupp. (Dennis Polkow)
Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, (847)634-0200. Through January 1. $41-$49.