November 24, 2005
An X-Mas Like No Other
"The sun is shining, the grass is green, the orange and palm trees sway. There's never been such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it's December the 24th, and I am longing to be up north."
While it isn't likely the above stanza sparks many memories, the next line should: "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas."
Bing Crosby's popular version of the song -- introduced in "Holiday Inn" (1942) and later sung in "White Christmas" (1954) -- cut out the satirical introduction.
The nonreligious holiday song, written in 1940 by Russian Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin (né Izzy Baline), the son of Orthodox Jews, was the best-selling record of all time for more than 50 years.
Ironically, the song was written as a sort of parody to the nostalgic type of Christmas song that "White Christmas" eventually became, according to Jody Rosen, author of "White Christmas: The Story of an American Song" (Scribner, 2002).
This year, despite our city's lack of snow, Los Angeles will get a white Christmas when the musical -- based on "a Russian-born cantor's son's ode to a Christian American holiday," as Rosen puts it -- opens at the Pantages Theatre. The show is simultaneously premiering here, in Boston and San Francisco, with no plans yet to mount a national tour.
As in the movie, the stage version tells of two Army buddies/entertainers who have to save a snow-starved Vermont inn run by their former general. At the same time, the duo falls in love with a pair of singing sisters. David Ogden Stiers of the TV show, "M*A*S*H*," heads back to the barracks in the role of the general.
The new 1950s-looking musical is sort of a love letter to Berlin, with songs from the film, like "Blue Skies" and "Count Your Blessings," plus gems added with permission from the Berlin estate, like "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and "Happy Holidays."
While at first glance, "White Christmas" might look Christian, Berlin's timeless homage to glistening treetops is really about winter -- and a longing for a more innocent time where the right lyric could work magic.
"White Christmas: The Musical" plays through Jan. 1 at Hollywood's Pantages Theatre. For more information, visit www.BroadwayLA.org.