Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Irving Berlin's White Christmas
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!, Harvey and Mary Poppins

Nathan Brian, Julia Mosby, Patrick Graver and Kelly Moran DiConzo
The perineal holiday musical favorite White Christmas is back in town in a charming production at Arizona Broadway Theatre. Based on the classic 1954 film, White Christmas was last seen in the Valley a year ago in a great production at the Phoenix Theatre. With wonderful Irving Berlin songs and a fun "let's put on a show" plot, it's easy to see why the show is so popular. ABT's production has an engaging and talented cast, some energetic dancing, and a nice emotional payoff. It's a perfect way to start the holiday season.

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 before—but 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 or by calling 623 776-8400.

Stage Direction / Choreography: Stephen Casey
Music Direction: Mark 4Man
Scenic Design: Charles J. Trieloff
Costume Design: Wyllym Pryce
Sound Design: Jason Lynn
Lighting Design: Tim Monson
Stage Management: Jessica Yauney
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Bob Wallace: Nathan Brian
Phil Davis: Patrick Graver
Ralph Sheldrake: Leonardo Altafini
General Henry Waverly: T.V. Reeves
Rita: Katie Larson
Rhoda: Lauren Morgan
Tessie: Emily Blake Anderson
Betty Haynes: Julia Mosby
Judy Haynes: Kelly Moran DiConzo
Jimmy: Isaac Wesley Wilson
Mr. Snoring Man: Isaac Wesley Wilson
Mrs. Snoring Man: Deborah McCasland
Martha Watson: Rori Nogee
Susan Waverly: Sophia Matin
Ezekiel Foster: Isaac Wesley Wilson
Mike Nulty: Cooper Hallstrom
Sheldrake's Secretary: Lynzee Jaye Paul 4Man
Regency Room Dancers: Adam Shaff, Diego Diaz, Barret Harper, Colin Shea Denniston
Ensemble: Leonardo Altafini, Emily Blake Anderson, Quinten Patrick Busey, Colin Shea Denniston, Diego Diaz, Lynzee Jaye Paul 4Man, Cooper Hallstrom, Barret Harper, Katie Larson, Fiona Laube, Deborah McCasland, Lauren Morgan, Adam Shaff, Caroline Wagner, Isaac Wesley Wilson

Photo: Courtesy Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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