Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
The plot begins in 1944, where Army buddies Bob Wallace (Alex Fullerton) and Phil Davis (Loren Stone) entertain their fellow troops on Christmas Eve. A decade later, the duo has become a famous song-and-dance team. A chance encounter with the Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy (Renee Kathleen Koher and Elyssa Blonder), prompts Phil to alter their Christmas plans and, unbeknownst to Bob, follow the sisters to the Vermont Inn, where they are set to perform. When they discover that the inn is run by their former Army General (Bob Downing), who is having financial difficulties due to the lack of snow which has turned their guests away, they decide to band together to help him out. Add in a series of comedic mishaps and a big shot of romance and you get a heartwarming musical that features love, friendship, and the magic of the holiday season.
While the majority of the leads are somewhat younger than I've seen in other productions, they are all talented singers, actors and dancers. Alex Fullerton and Loren Stone form an appealing duo, naturally portraying the camaraderie of lifelong friends. Fullerton's clear voice is showcased beautifully in the title song and the poignant "Count Your Blessings." Stone's exceptional dance skills shine in dynamic, athletic performances, including the showstopping "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" and "I Love a Piano" alongside Blonder. Renee Kathleen Koher delivers both comedic wit and exceptional vocals as the mistrusting Betty, with her duet with Fullerton, "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" and "How Deep is the Ocean" especially gorgeous. Blonder, though having less solo stage time, leaves a lasting impression with her skillful dancing and warm and engaging presence.
As Martha, the woman who helps run the inn, Lynzee Foreman adds a large touch of sass along with sharp comedic flair, delivering some of the show's best humorous lines with impeccable comic timing. Her brassy voice shines in the solo "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Bob Downing brings authenticity and gravitas, along with warmth, to the role of the General. Kinley Stratton is delightful as the General's granddaughter Susan (she alternates the role with Lainey Hoekstra) and the ensemble contributes to the festive atmosphere with energetic dance numbers and lively performances. Also, Tyler Gallaher is fun and energetic as Ralph Sheldrake, the Army buddy of Bob and Phil, Brody Wurr is great as the frenzied stage manager Mike, Tony Blosser is charming as Ezekiel Foster, and Lauren Witman and Sara Shomgard are a hoot as a pair of dancers in Bob and Phil's show.
Directed by Rob Watson and choreographed by Lauran Stanis, the production's choreography is fantastic, infusing the stage with energy and charm and numerous showstopping dance numbers that all feature varied and bright steps. The ensemble's tap-dancing prowess is showcased in the lively "Let Yourself Go" and "I Love a Piano," and the elaborate dance sequences, including those two songs plus the delightful "Blue Skies," and "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," add visual spectacle to the production. Watson's direction establishes a 1950s period style in both speech and singing, grounding the production in its time period.
Mark Ceppetelli's music direction delivers a full sound from the nine-piece orchestra and good vocals from the cast. The set design by Cody Tellis Rutledge effectively transitions between the various locations in the show, including the inn, dressing rooms, a train, the inn's barn, and a New York supper club with realistic touches. Cassandra Norville Klaphake's period-appropriate costumes and the lighting by Cameron Filepas add pops of color and style.
With a delightful cast and top-notch dancing, Irving Berlin's White Christmas at Arizona Broadway Theatre is a wonderful combination of timeless songs, romance, and comedy, and a joyous addition to the holiday season.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 30, 2023, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.azbroadway.org or call 623-776-8400.
Director: Rob Watson
Cast: (in order of appearance)