At 3 and 8 pm on Sunday, December 22nd, Paramount Pictures and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra presented two sing-along screenings of the 1954 musical, “White Christmas,” at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Directed by Michael Curtiz, with musical numbers staged by Robert Alton, and songs as well as lyrics by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” has never looked so lushly colorful and sounded so rich. As the lyrics of each song appeared on screen — each highlighted word serving as a cue — audiences sang out unabashedly to their heart’s content. After all, a friendly announcement beforehand reminded them that doing so was highly encouraged. More than that, though, the main takeaway continues to be the film’s enduring message of coming to the aid of those who don’t deserve to be forgotten.
In excess of 4,000 attendees combined (from the two screenings) took part in the convivial event, which has now been a part of LA Phil’s “Deck the Hall” holiday programming series since 2015. These festive engagements are also notable for their pre-event enticements, which in this case involved imbibing delicious hot cocoa and crowding around a talented quartet of carolers who sang everything from “Jingle Bells” to “Silver Bells” and even Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”
The two-hour romantic comedy covers a 10-year span, beginning with Christmas Eve in 1944 amid World War II, where we first meet General Waverly, played by Dean Jagger, along with Captain Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby), a polished Broadway performer, and Private Phil Davis (Danny Kaye), a would-be entertainer. When Davis saves Wallace from a toppling wall during an enemy strike, the former, who injures his arm in the process, charmingly guilt-trips Wallace to join forces as a stage duo. The two hit it off as friends and with the public; however, they have little time to themselves and Davis encourages his friend to find love. Thereafter, as a seeming favor to an old pal from the war, they agree to check out the show of a sister tandem, Betty and Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen). Phil and Judy have immediate chemistry, as opposed to Bob and Betty, but that doesn’t stop Phil from giving his and Bob’s train tickets — bound for New York — to the women following a dispute with their landlord so they can get away to their gig in Pine Tree, Vermont, at the Columbia Inn. Eventually, Phil convinces Bob to join them there where they surprisingly reconnect with their erstwhile Major, now a down-on-his-luck innkeeper struggling to make ends meet. To make matters worse, snow is not expected for the first time in ages, but Wallace & Davis decide to use their star power and stage act to support their forgotten friend of the war.
While the movie is 65 years old, it touches on truths that persist to this day, most notably the fact that everyone needs a helping hand every now and then even if their pride would be disinclined to allow it. More specifically and politically, great numbers of veterans who have fallen on hard times, following their tour of duties, were ignored then and continue to be brushed aside today. Ideally, no matter how high of a station one may achieve in life, the goal should always be to ensure that the less fortunate are taken care of. Beyond this central theme, “White Christmas” is also about love and forgiveness, which are heartily conveyed via an extraordinary choreography, singing, comedy, and a genuine sweetness that rings immaculately true. Despite any attempt to view it cynically, the musical embraces passion and optimism in the face of any hopelessness.
At the forefront of this is Crosby whose full-bodied baritone voice has made the title number the best-selling song of all time, not to mention a winner of countless awards and accolades. After the “White Christmas” ballad made its debut in 1942’s “Holiday Inn” — also starring Crosby — it saw a retooling 12 years later in this sequel which incorporated seven additional songs by Berlin. As iconic as Crosby is, the film “White Christmas” is a team effort by individuals like Kaye who stands out with his comic timing and jack-of-all-trades showmanship; Clooney (aunt to George) whose beautifully lilting voice is as moving as ever; and Vera-Ellen whose dancing was way ahead of its time.
The appeal of the 1954 singing picture was measurable during its original theatrical run when it grossed $30 million, and palpable at the Disney Concert Hall where audiences clapped and cheered like they were witnessing it live on opening night. Besides the headlining number, other audience favorites included “The Old Man,” “Sisters,” “Count your Blessings (Instead of Sheep),” and Clooney’s solo of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”
Moreover, Alton’s choreography is still a sure-fire humdinger with crowds, as evidenced by the applause that Kaye and Vera-Ellen’s partner dance received in “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” The same can also be said for ensemble sequences like the Minstrel Number and “Choreography,” which feature a pre-“Westside Story” George Chakiris as a backup hoofer.
Overall, there’s a lot to be said for social activities in Southern California that bring together a large gathering to celebrate not just the holidays, but a classic musical, by proudly vocalizing its songs in unison. Of course, nothing quite tops the title song, which, during its concluding reprise, echoed resoundingly as snowflakes dropped from the Disney Concert Hall ceiling. Indeed, it was a “White Christmas” in Los Angeles, and it’s a seasonal tradition that should continue for many more years to come at the Frank Gehry-designed venue.
For more information about other upcoming events at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, please visit: