‘White Christmas’ at The Kennedy Center by Amanda Gunther

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At this festive time of year we all hope that our days are merry and bright. But if you truly wish for the seasonal sentiment to reach out and touch your heart the place to go is The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as they present Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a Christmas classic that ensures your holiday season will be merry. Directed by Norb Joerder with Musical Direction by Michael Horsley, this stunning heart-warming story will keep a smile on your face straight through to the end.

(l to r) Judy Haynes (Mara Davi) Phil Davis (David Elder) Bob Wallace (James Clow), and Betty Haynes (Stefanie Morse). Photo by Sharon Sipple.

Scenic Designer Kenneth Foy brings all the resplendent novelty of a Broadway show gone Christmas to this brilliant performance, having adapted some styles from Broadway Designer Anna Louizos. From the rustic and cozy charm of the inn in Pine Tree, Vermont to the snug and bustling interior of the train car, Foy’s designs are magical; bringing full scale scenes to life. The train car is impressive in its compact nature, really creating the illusion that the cast have hopped aboard the Christmas express heading for snow country. And his luxurious design for the interior of the Regency Room is simply divine. The crystal chandelier and the gauzy white curtains add an elegant touch of swank to the place, leaving it dripping with a smooth essence of grandeur, the same that slides melodiously from the voice of Betty Haynes in “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”

Complimenting the breathtaking settings are Costume Designer Carrie Robbins’s gorgeous color schemes. Everything has the perfect holiday fit whilst she fits the dresses, suits, and costumes perfectly to each performer. There are snazzy green holly-tinted green suits for Bob and Phil when performing on the Ed Sullivan show, and bubbly sky blue crinoline-puffed gowns for the Haynes sisters when they showcase their number to the boys. The ensemble outfits ring out with true holiday cheer, and when everyone dons a dapper white for “Blue Skies” it’s stunning. Robbins’s best pieces are showcased in the finale, the trademark red gowns and suits for everyone to celebrate a happy ending.

Choreographer Randy Skinner has his work cut out for him as the show is packed with dance breaks. But Skinner lives up to the high expectations of entertaining a large audience at this time of year and produces flawless routines that are nothing short of astonishing. The synchronization that is meticulously executed during large ensemble numbers like “Happy Holiday/Let Yourself Go.” But Skinner’s real magic appears in all of the tremendously intricate tap routines! Everyone’s tapping in this show and its spectacular. Phil and Judy kick off a complex tap routine during “I Love A Piano” and their feet are flying so fast you’d think they had wings. The ensemble kicks up a fierce tap routine during “Blue Skies” and during the big opening number “Let Yourself Go.” Skinner’s work is nothing short of perfection and makes the musical truly a quality performance.

With a brilliant and powerful ensemble, big numbers like “Snow” and “White Christmas” becomes a choir of holiday cheer echoing throughout the audience. And perfection among the ranks in casting really makes this show a fantastical treat for the holidays. With a slightly loopy and gossiping Martha (Ruth Williamson) who packs a blow-away belt into her number “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” And a gruff weathered old salt for General Waverly (Joseph Costa) there is both humor and happiness to be found. Williamson and Costa play well off one another, like an old married couple, each grounded in the reality of their characters. While Costa is the more down to earth half of the partnership, caught up in his military heyday, Williamson plays the more amusing side of comedy into her character. Together they make for a great pair of old people running the struggling little inn and they bring light to the show.

Following in the star-struck shadow of Martha is little Susan Waverly (Andie Mechanic) who is the most adorable and precocious little girl you’ll see all holiday season. Mechanic does her own too cute rendition of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and wows the audience with her boisterous sound, making each moment she’s onstage an endearing one. She’s precious and has a great sense of timing so that her cute little quips add extra hilarity to the scene.

Sisters, sisters, there were never such devoted sisters as Betty (Stefanie Morse) and Judy (Mara Davi) Haynes. Having the charming and caring relationship of two close sisters, they make for a perfect pair upon the stage. When performing “Sisters” that sororal bond between them really shines. They both exude a brilliant chemistry when matching off with each of the song and dance boys, Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (David Elder).

Davi is a bubbly delight upon the stage, her voice pure and chaste, particularly when she sings “I Love A Piano” with Elder. Playing ever the cheeky fun-loving fellow, David Elder shares that bright personality with his partner while still managing to be amusing. His tap routines are second to none in this performance and when he’s singing with Clow you can easily hear their friendship ringing through the notes. Elder and Davi make the perfect pair to ease the bristling between Bob and Betty and are a lovely romantic couple during this feel-good holiday show.

As for Bob and Betty, Clow and Morse really steal the show. Clow has a subtle charm to his singing voice, showcased best during “Love and the Weather.” His song flows crisp and warmly, emotionally inviting without sounding gooey or sappy. And when Morse joins him making this song a duet, the harmonious blend shines like a rainbow breaking through the crest of the storm. The pair are prickling at one another more than they share tender moments but when they do it inspires the heart to pound with pure love. Morse’s solo “Love, You Didn’t Do Me Right” is carried with perfect pitch, easily expressing her remorse and woe over love.

Clow gives a sweet melodious lullaby in “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” which is the perfect soother when assuaging little Susan’s fears and inability to sleep. His voice is rich and inviting, filled with feeling and sincerity in every song, but none so perfect as when he performs “White Christmas.” A true wonder to the show, inviting you into a Christmas fairytale.

The whole show is wrapped up at the end with a scene that looks like a Christmas Card, making you burst with joy. So with every Christmas card you write, if you’re thinking about snow and needing a tender warm feeling, the place to find it this Christmas is at White Christmas at The Kennedy Center, where they will ensure that your holiday is truly white.

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

(l to r) Betty (Stefanie Morse) and Judy (Mara Davi) Haynes doing their infamous “Sisters” song and dance routine. Photo by Sharon Sipple.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays through January 6, 2012 at the Opera House of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – 2700 F Street NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Spot on review – what a delightful evening at the theater. Now this show is not going to break any ground in advancing the American musical, it is a real old fashion, classic Broadway musical complete with an overture, a dazzling Act 2 opening number, and a wonderful finale! From the nostalgic point of view, the only thing that would make this show any warmer or cozier is a dog! Go see it; we need this show. Hey, why not make this a seasonal classic to compete with oh, too many A Christmas Carol?

  2. I loved the movie when it came out in the fifties, and this live production brought tears to my eyes. The show combined spectacular choreography and dancing, classic songs, and a happy ending. What a wonderful way to end this year’s holiday season!

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