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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Irving Berlin's White Christmas

Also see John's review of Of Mice and Men


Kelly Shook and Julie Kleiner
The Wick Theatre presents the musical Irving Berlin's White Christmas based on the Paramount Pictures 1954 film White Christmas. The show features a libretto by David Ives and Paul Blake, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. It played a limited engagement on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre from November 14, 2008, through January 4, 2009, and returned to the same theatre in a limited engagement from November 13, 2009, through January 3, 2010. The Broadway production received two Tony Award nominations and six Drama Desk Award nominations.

This is the very same nostalgic tale of two song and dance teams that come together at an inn in Vermont at Christmastime, put on a show to save a floundering business run by their friend and former US Army General, and fall in love in the process that you may recall from the film. It marries together the commercially successful themes of Christmas, post WWII patriotism and—of course—love! The song "White Christmas" (which appears among many other Irving Berlin hits) was introduced in the 1942 film Holiday Inn. Originally sung by Bing Crosby, the song remains one of the most recorded songs in history. In the words of composer-lyricist Garrison Hintz: "Considering the fact that "White Christmas" has only eight sentences in the entire song, lyrically Mr. Berlin achieved all that was necessary to eventually sell over 100 million copies and capture the hearts of the American public at the same time."

Julie Kleiner (Judy Haynes) is a surprisingly lovely dancer, but more importantly, she is always clear about demonstrating what she is feeling—it's the look, the sigh, and the body language that reads from stage. Her duet with Cannon Starnes (Phil Davis) in "The Best Things Happen While Your Dancing" is enchanting. Kelly Shook (Betty Hanes) captures a kind of wounded melancholy that works well for the role. Her wonderful rendition of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" redeems her tendency in the first act to begin vocal phrases with glottal stops.

The two male leads both need to work on connecting with their love interest in a way that shows tension and resolution. One cannot just smile broadly at one another on stage and expect the audience to catch your character's emotional development. It therefore comes as a quite a surprise when we discover Phil has proposed to Judy because we never saw it in his portrayal. Likewise, when Bob, played by James Cichewicz, breaks into the song "How Deep Is The Ocean?" one is left wondering when exactly he started feeling that way about Betty. Both men have great chemistry together and undeniable charm that needs to simply be focused. Cannon Starnes is a classic, comic song and dance man. The role of Phil Davis is well suited to his talents. Cichewicz has a fine singing voice but seems intent on singing everything loudly whether it needs to be or not. He is actually far more musical when he sings more softly, and it allows him to blend.

Missy McArdle as Martha, the brassy "concierge" of the inn, belts out a show stopping rendition of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Her bossy characterization is filled with fun, but is perhaps in need of being tempered with some warmth. The warmest moment in the show is actually the scene in which Alan Gerstel as General Waverly thanks his troops and honors those who have served. It has a simple sincerity worthy of bringing a catch to one's throat.

Costuming by Stacey Stephens is lavish, and the Haynes Sisters smoothly navigate their way through what seems like a different outfit in every scene. A special nod to the gown worn by Kelly Shook in "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" that is effectively reminiscent of what Rosemary Clooney wore in the film. It's a great look that captures the very specific feel of the number. With a late sound cue here and a late light cue there, and some tardy completions of scene changes this production has just a few edges to smooth out.

Choreographer Wendy Hall does a smashing job providing choreography with visual levels and depth, from energetic tap numbers to restrained modern ones. The single choreographed number of which I was not fond was "Blue Skies" as it becomes too much about the backup dancers, even though they are not the focal point. Some staging issues exist starting with an uncomfortably long first act scene in which we are forced to watch the backs of the two male leads as they change clothes. Once we reach the inn, the stage is so broad and bare that actors pace to eat up space in book scenes, and the look of the inn itself is far from warm and cozy. The theatre seamlessly uses tracks rather than live musicians; however, they appear to have committed a huge faux pas by also allowing the ensemble to sing live on top of pre-recorded vocal tracks of themselves singing in some of the group numbers. The festive closing number, with cast in full holiday finery, and "snow" drifting downward upon the audience is surely an enjoyably memorable moment for all, especially at this time of year.

White Christmas will be appearing at the Wick Theatre & Costume Museum through December 25, 2013. The Wick Theatre & Costume Museum is located at 7901 N. Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Florida. It houses a professional, 330-seat theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors, the Broadway Collection Costume Museum, and the Wick Tavern - open for lunch or dinner. For more information you may contact them by phone at 561-955-2333 or online at www.thewick.org.

Cast:
Bob Wallace: James Cichewicz*
Phil Davis: Cannon Starnes
Betty Haynes: Kelly Shook*
Judy Haynes: Julie Kleiner*
Martha Watson: Missy McArdle
General Waverly: Alan Gerstel
Susan Waverly: Bianca Matthews
Ralph Sheldrake: Randy Charleville
Ezekiel Foster: Sean Dorazio
Tessie: Erin Pittleman
Rita: Lindsay Bell
Rhoda: Lauren Bell
Mike: Joshua S. Roth
Male Ensemble: Josh S. Roth, Pim van Amerangen, Vincent Orabona, Corey O'Brien, Robert Wilday
Female Ensemble: Lindsay Bell, Lauren Bell, Kate Gray, Abby Perkins, Julia Welling

Crew:
Director/Costume Design: Stacey Stephens
Music Director: Michael Ursula+
Choreography: Wendy Hall
Scenic Design: Tom Hansen
Lighting Design: Tom Shorrock
Stage Manager: James Danford*

*Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

+Designates member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society, an independent national labor union.


Photo: Amy Pasquantonio


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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