Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Irving Berlin's White Christmas
The show starts in 1944 where Army buddies Bob Wallace (Nathan Brian) and Phil Davis (Patrick Graver) 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 (Julia Mosby and Kelly Moran DiConzo), Phil, instantly smitten with Judy, decides to change their 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 Bob and Phil's former commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (T. V. Reeves), 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 mentioned, it's the tried and true "let's put on a show" formula that has worked in so many ways beforebut with the added bonus of some top notch Irving Berlin tunes.
Brian and Graver are an appealing twosome, naturally portraying a duo who seem to have known each other for a long time. Brian's deep voice is used to great effect on the title song as well as the act one closer "Blue Skies" and a sweet, touching "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)." Graver has an exceptional time in his many dance focused pieces, and throws himself into them, showing off his athletic dance abilities with ease. His performance of "I Love a Piano" with DiConzo is a showstopper. Mosby is a winner as the somewhat mistrusting Betty. Her delivery of some of Betty's more comical lines has a nice "bite" to it and her voice is exceptional, with her act two duet with Brian of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" with "How Deep is the Ocean?" a perfect shining moment for both of them. DiConzo has a bit less to do than the other three leads, but she manages to make a great impression in the dance sequences she shares with Graver and the songs she shares with Mosby.
Rori Nogee plays the role of Martha, who is helping to run the inn with the General. She has an abundance of sass she uses to deliver some of the best comedic lines in the show and her brassy voice excels on her solo, "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." Nogee is giving a well-rounded, winning performance. As the General, Reeves has real life experience, having served three tours in Vietnam, so his portrayal of this military man is extremely realistic. He also does a fine job in his emotional scenes without letting them get too sappy. The ensemble has plenty to do, including some highly elaborate choreographed moments and there is also the nice addition of youngster Sophia Matin who plays the granddaughter of the General.
Directed and choreographed by Stephen Casey, the production features some highly energetic dancing, like the great "The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing" which includes several types of dance that Graver and DiConzo deliver with skill. Almost the entire cast gets involved in the fast-paced tap dancing "I Love a Piano" and, while the dancing in "Blue Skies" could be a bit cleaner and in sync, it still manages to make quite an impression. Casey also wisely has his cast use a 1950s period style of speech and singing to ground the production in the time period of the piece. Charles J. Trieloff's set design isn't overly elaborate, with just a few moveable set pieces to establish the rooms of the inn, backstage dressing rooms and a New York supper club, but the design works, though it isn't quite as elaborate as some past ABT productions. The absence of any drop at the back of the stage until the very ending is a bit strange, as the bare wall doesn't add much to the many scenes that play out in front of it. Trieloff unfortunately passed away shortly before the production began rehearsals. Wyllym Pryce's costumes are colorful, and a nice mix of patterns, fabrics, and period styles. The combination of Trieloff's set and Pryce's costumes during "I Love a Piano" is an explosion of black and white piano themed designs. Mark 4Man's music direction is excellent, achieving beautiful sounds from both the cast and the orchestra.
White Christmas is a fun, romantic and comical musical and a joyous addition to the holiday season. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production has fine leads, good production elements and some excellent choreography by Casey, all wrapped up with some of the best loved and well known Irving Berlin songs.
Irving Berlin's White Christmas runs through December 28th, 2014, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.
Stage Direction / Choreography: Stephen Casey