Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Also see Gil's review of Fifty Shades of Felt
The show starts in 1944 where Army buddies Bob Wallace (Joseph Cannon) and Phil Davis (Peter Marinaro) are entertaining their fellow troops on Christmas Eve. Flash forward 10 years and Wallace and Davis are now a famous song and dance team performing on "The Ed Sullivan Show." Upon meeting sister act Betty and Judy Haynes (Debby Rosenthal and Molly Lajoie), Phil, instantly smitten with Judy, decides to change his and Bob's Christmas plans, of rehearsing their new show in Florida, to follow the girls to the Vermont Inn where they will be performing. He does this without letting Bob or Betty know of the plans, which causes some problems since Bob and Betty aren't exactly impressed with each other. When they get to the Inn they find that it is run by their former Army General (Chris Eriksen), but, due to the lack of snow and his unfamiliarity with running an inn, business isn't so good. So, Bob and Phil hatch a plan to rehearse their show at the Inn and get all of their old Army buddies to come up for the holidays to support the General. As I said above, it's the tried and true "let's put on a show" formula that has worked in so many ways before, but with the added bonus of some top notch Irving Berlin tunes.
Cannon, Marinaro, Rosenthal, and Lajoie are a terrific foursome, each perfectly portraying these characters. Cannon, who spent five years in the Marine Corps, actually looks and acts like someone in the military. He has a lovely and deep singing voice and leads the ensemble in the big act one finale of "Blue Skies" as well as performing a touching version of "Count Your Blessings." He easily handles the dramatic scenes as well. Marinaro throws himself into the many dance numbers and seems to have a great time doing so. His performance of "I Love a Piano" with Lajoie and the ensemble is a showstopper. Rosenthal is an adept actress and singer and shines on her solo "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" as well as the duets she has with Cannon.
Johanna Carlisle plays the part of Martha, who is helping to run the Inn with the General. She gets to sing "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and does a knockout job with the song. She also gets a lot of the good comedic lines and is someone that, even when she is on the stage but not saying anything, draws your attention to her, but in a good way. She has a line that is repeated in the show about people being "born with talent" and she was born with enough talent for two people. Eriksen is the General and he does a fine job balancing the emotional scenes without letting them veer to schmaltz. The ensemble is well honed, including nice contributions from thirteen-year-old Kate Shein who plays the General's granddaughter.
Directed by Michael Barnard with choreography by Kathy Calahan (who was in the original pre-Broadway run of this show), the show moves swiftly along with the appropriate touches of humor and emotion. Calahan's choreography is fun and energetic as well as lush and romantic when required. Robert Kovach's set design isn't overly elaborate but extremely effective. The set pieces move swiftly from backstage dressing rooms to a train, several rooms at the Vermont Inn, an elegant New York supper club and even a lovely "White Christmas" finale. The side drops are painted with bows and ribbon to appear as if every scene is a giant wrapped Christmas gift.
White Christmas at the Phoenix Theatre is the perfect blend of top notch cast, excellent sets, costumes, direction and choreography and a fun, though simple story all wrapped up with some of the best loved Irving Berlin songs. It is a big show on the intimate stage of the theatre and I wouldn't be surprised to see this come back to the Phoenix Theatre in a couple of years for another holiday season run.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 24th at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151.
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin