Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Musical of Musicals: The Musical
In November 2004, a stage version of the 1954 film White Christmas premiered in San Francisco to great acclaim. Not surprisingly, the show has received numerous productions around the country since then, as a new holiday show of some quality is about as sure-fire a hit as they come in the theater world, So, it was only a matter of time before the musical found its way to La Comedia Dinner Theatre, in Springboro, Ohio. The theater stages a Christmas themed show every November and December, and White Christmas is a welcome addition to its staple of shows. A suitable cast, wonderful choreography and strong production values bring White Christmas to life at La Comedia this season.
The show follows the antics of two World War II veterans who became a famous song-and-dance duo in the 1950s. As they prepare for their new act, they meet a pair of performing sisters and follow them to a mountain lodge in Vermont where the ladies are scheduled to perform. The near bankrupt lodge turns out to be owned by the men's former general, and they show the kindness within them by initiating a plan to help their old friend.
The book for this White Christmas is by David Ives and Paul Blake, and follows the film's general story, with a good deal of the details altered (including some expanded of supporting character roles). The plot is hokey and corny, with the main conflict coming from a simple misunderstanding. Other old-fashioned sentiments like "hey, let's put on a show in a barn" abound as well. But at the same time, there's a healthy balance of humor, romance, drama and fun. And the story has lots of heart and is a good fit for the emotions and values of Christmas.
The primary asset for White Christmas is its sparkling score by Irving Berlin. The stage version includes most of the songs from the movie, including "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings," "Snow" and the title number. "Let Yourself Go," "Blue Skies," "I Love A Piano" and other Berlin songs that weren't in the film or were only heard in brief snippets have been included in the stage version as well, to good effect. Is it really necessary to say that Mr. Berlin's classic songs are of the highest quality, with snappy melodies and first-class lyrics?
As Bob, Darren McDonnell has strong charisma and stage presence, though the songs would be better suited to a performer with smooth and steady crooner vocals rather than Mr. McDonnell's more forceful vibrato. Leslie Jo Bissett conveys apt stubbornness as Betty, and her singing is strong and pleasant (though the natural country twang that she's put to great use in previous La Comedia productions does come through a few times). Rachael Lee (Judy) and Andrew Chartier (Phil) are just about perfect as the other couple, with splendid vocals and acting choices throughout. As Martha, Nancy Evans proves to be a great comedienne, and Charlie Goetz is appropriately stern as General Waverly. The ensemble does extremely well in support, and executes the many dances with great skill.
Director Michael Horsley has overseen other productions of White Christmas, and his experience with the piece pays off with solid staging, blocking and transitions. The choreography supplied by Eric Fogel is simply splendid. The big production numbers and smaller dances are all visually interesting and enhance the material. Matthew J. Evans provides numerous large sets, all with nice details and attractively rendered. There is fine lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn, and the costumes by A.T. Jones are fun and period appropriate.
La Comedia Dinner Theatre has staged a winning show in White Christmas, and the worthwhile cast is just one of several assets to the production. The show runs through December 31, 2007, and tickets can be ordered online at www.lacomedia.com or by phone at 1-800-677-9505.-- Scott Cain