Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
White Christmas, based on the 1954 film of the same title, follows the antics of two World War II veterans (Bob and Phil) who become a famous song-and-dance duo in the mid-1950s. As they prepare for their new show, they meet a pair of performing sisters (Betty and Judy) and follow them to a Vermont mountain inn where the ladies are scheduled to perform. The near-bankrupt lodge turns out to be owned by the men's former army general, and they generously initiate a plan to help their old commander avoid financial ruin.
The book for the musical is by David Ives and Paul Blake, and it follows the film's general story, with some details altered, including some expansion of supporting characters. The plot is quite corny, with the main conflict stemming from a simple misunderstanding. Other old-fashioned sentiments like "hey, let's put on a show in a barn," which the characters even acknowledge as hokey, abound as well. Even with healthy doses of humor, romance and drama, as well as a storyline with a good heart that fits the values and emotions of Christmas, the book is predictable.
The main asset of White Christmas is its uplifting 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. Other Berlin tunes such as "Let Yourself Go," "Blue Skies," "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," and "I Love a Piano," which weren't in the film or were only heard in brief snippets, have been included in this stage version in a fairly seamless fashion. Mr. Berlin's songs are classics, with snappy melodies and first-class lyrics.
Chris Bieser serves as the director and choreographer of this production. His dances are splendid (especially for "Blue Skies"), truly the highlight of the show. His direction includes smooth transitions (not always a given in dinner theatres), well-suited blocking, and an apt tone for the piece. At the performance I attended, there were a few rough spots in the performances and technical execution (especially mic issues) that need tightened up, but that one assumes they will improve with a few more performances or rehearsals.
As cynical Bob, Andy Donnelly is appropriately stoic and guarded at first, but conveys the warmer side of his character as the story continues. He's also a wonderful singer, providing the post-bows traditional rendition of "O, Holy Night" that always ends La Comedia's holiday show. Dom Giovanni is befittingly funny and happy-go-lucky, and dances up a storm. Liv Kurtz displays vocal versatility as Betty, delicate and warm voiced at the beginning, but sultry during her performance of "How Deep Is the Ocean?." Ms. Kurtz could provide a bit of variation in her character's tone, however, needing to display more of a sunny disposition when the plot calls for it. Allison Gabert is perky and funny as sister Judy, hamming it up at times and showing off strong vocal and dance skills.
As the innkeeper's assistant Martha, Leanne Greenberg skillfully provides showbiz razzmatazz, big vocals, and apt comedic timing to great effect. Robert Tully is appropriately stern and proud as General Waverly, and shows off a commanding stage presence. The ensemble performs admirably, playing multiple parts which include many challenging dances.
The set design isn't specifically attributed to anyone in the program, and while generally varied, efficient and cohesive, they sometimes lack the polish or detail audiences might expect. The lighting by Edward Huber uses several nice effects, but needs some fine tuning in execution. The costumes by Emercita Erb and Mattison Williams are generally period-appropriate and handsome, with some of the outfits that fans of the film may expect to see.
Despite the imperfect book and the need for a bit more time for the cast and crew to settle in further (there's time, given the two-month run of the show), this production of White Christmas is sure to please the many theatergoers who will celebrate the holidays at La Comedia this season. Excellent choreography, memorable songs, and a fine cast (and don't forget the pretty darn good buffet) make this Christmas tradition one that is sure to be a hit once again.
White Christmas runs through December 30, 2022, at La Comedia Dinner Theater, 765 W Central Avenue, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, call 937-746-4554 or visit lacomedia.com.