3:12 PM CDT, October 25, 2011
Already, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire dreams of a white Christmas. Some of us are still struggling to get our heads around Halloween.
Nonetheless, time marches relentlessly on, the snow surely will fly, and "Blue Skies" around here will soon best be enjoyed inside a warm theater. The current offering at the Marriott — a routine-driven theatrical machine that doesn't deviate from its time-honored seasonal subscription calendar just because it requires hauling out the holiday decorations even earlier than Macy's — will run through the end of the year. I'd wait a while, frankly, for the full cozy effect. But, with the exception of less-than-romantic snow and the truly bizarre design choice of hanging Christmas trees upside down, this show exceeds expectations.
Those expectations were, for some of us, diminished by the mediocre touring production of this very title that Broadway in Chicago booked last year. "White Christmas" (or, to use its full, estate-approved title, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas") sounds like a classic musical, but it was, in fact, developed in 2004 as a way to capitalize on the popularity of the 1954 movie that contained the signature feel-good ditty. It's the holiday story of a pair of song-and-dance men (Andrew Lupp and Rod Thomas) who snag themselves a sister act (Tammy Mader and Stephanie Binetti) and head for a Vermont hotel in order to rescue their former World War II general, a man better suited to active duty than inn keeping. And the stage version contains several Berlin standards that were not in the film.
This is no masterpiece of theatrical writing and the early scenes are especially fragmented and choppy. But the romantic, pro-military story has a strong emotional pull. And director Marc Robin comes up with a number of strategies to give the show more weight and heft.
Two of those strategies are named David Lively and Alene Robertson. These fine veteran Chicago actors are actually playing the character roles on the second line of the playbill, but together they give the show the crucial truthful root wholly missing in that aforementioned tour. Lively, who plays General Waverly, offers such a poignant performance, it raises the stakes on the whole shebang. Robertson plays his sidekick Martha, and is both typically hilarious and, less typically, genuinely moving.
Robin is well known for his ability to rescue second-tier material by amping up the dance — and so it goes here — but his storytelling talents are often underestimated. He has cast this piece with, ahem, mostly mature performers as both principals and ensemble members, which makes everything less flashy, less Broadway-glitzy and generally more substantial, an ideal trait in a warm family musical staged in the suburbs.
The paired dancers Lupp and Mader, both suggesting an age when new love is something of a relief, are just delightful, deftly evoking that crucial period ambiance in sound and movement, Meanwhile, Thomas, whose character's romance with Binetti's harder-edged cabaret star is more troubled, doesn't run away from the darker side of his trajectory towards the kind of seasonal happiness that here unravels replete with a rich ambivalence.
Add in some very droll comic touches from Michael Aaron Lindner, as the big-hearted rustic Ezekiel, and stellar musical direction throughout by Michael Mahler, and you have a very warm family entertainment, here, ready or not.
When: Through Jan. 1
Where: Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $41-$49 at 847-634-0200 and marriotttheatre.com
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