The downtown ice rink, Walnut Creek on Ice, opened last week. And, this weekend, White Christmas, that quintessential holiday show, starts a two-weekend run at the Lesher Center for the Arts.
Some people bemoan the way our consumer-driven culture pushes us to get into the holiday frenzy sooner each year. Sure, it’s a disconnect in September—when it’s 90 degrees out--to see plastic Christmas garlands take up shelf space at the drug store.
But now it’s the week of Thanksgiving. The rain is knocking the red, orange and yellow leaves off the trees, Christmas trees are arriving at lots, and I’ve been ready to get the holiday show going since before Halloween.
Now, I’m more ready than ever with the arrival of Walnut Creek on Ice and anticipation building around getting a Christmas tree, baking some cookies, seeing some new Oscar-bait movies in the theaters and enjoying some of the holiday-themed shows at the Lesher Center, where I now work.
The Diablo Theatre Company production of White Christmas is selling out. From what I saw at rehearsal last week, this show will definitely provide anyone with a holiday fix.
I have to admit I was never a big fan of the 1954 Bing Crosby movie on which the stage musical is based. No, it’s not on my holiday movie list. I’m not sure why I never embraced this movie—in the same way I embraced Holiday Inn or It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe Bing Crosby’s sad-eyed demeanor just put me to sleep. His voice has a somnolent effect. Meanwhile, Danny Kaye has always been too manically perky for my tastes.
It’s holiday sacrilege to dismiss this movie. But I suppose I’ll win points in whosever heaven decides these things by saying that the stage version is much more appealing.
Based on the movie, the stage version tells the story of two song-and-dance men who are former Army buddies. Set in the 1950s, about 10 years after the end of the war, the guys meet up with a sister act, and they all decide to put on a show in a picturesque Vermont inn to help out the innkeeper, who was the guys’ commanding general in World War II.
The movie always felt like it dragged on. This stage version, on the other hand, or Diablo Theatre Company’s version of it, zips from one number to the next. Gone is the movie’s Technicolor gloss, maybe allowing the heart and soul of the story and of the classic Irving Berlin songs to really shine through.
Most people are familiar with “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas…” And, they know that the snow miraculously begins falling on the Vermont inn, after a hot, dry spell that threatened to put the inn out of business.
But the show also features some pretty short and lovely love songs that are timeless:
How much do I love you?
I'll tell you no lie
How deep is the ocean?
How high is the sky?
This song, "How Deep is the Ocean," wasn’t in the movie, but you’ll hear it voiced with tender feeling by Tom Reardon. He’s playing the Bing Crosby role of “Capt. Bob Wallace,” the older of the two men—jaded, been around the block a few times.
The love story—or stories—in both the move and stage version of White Christmas are a bit hokey and contrived but they still work. And the love story, particularly between Wallace and Betty Haynes (played by Kelly Britt), is ultimately what the show is about. Maybe the best musical number is when Reardon and Britt both express their confusion and fears about love in a mashhup of "How Deep is the Ocean" and "Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me."
White Christmas is billed as a family friend show, but it could also make for a fun date night. Here’s the itinerary for a lovely post-Thanksgiving weekend. Do some shopping downtown. Then go skating at Walnut Creek on Ice. Hit Prima Ristorante for an early dinner, starting either with one of Gwyn Hogarth’s famous Manhattans or some of chef Peter Chastain’s magical hot chocolate made with a special Italian dark chocolate.
Then go see White Christmas. And if tickets are sold out, there is also the Smuin Ballet’s elegant and sassy The Christmas Ballet, which is also showing at the Lesher Center Nov. 25 and 26.
There's more information about Walnut Creek on Ice, which is open daily, here. And here is information on tickets to White Christmas or Smuin Ballet’s The Christmas Ballet.
Martha Ross, the former editor of Walnut Creek Patch, provides publicity for the Lesher Center for the Arts and the Diablo Regional Arts Association, and is on the marketing committee for Walnut Creek on Ice.