Season’s greetings! And happy holidays! The one thing that could make this festive time of year even more perfect would be wonderful, glimmering, beautiful, shimmering snow! And there’s a healthy dose of it to be had as the Broadway Across America— CareFirst Hippodrome Broadway Series presents Irving Berlin’s White Christmas just in time for the holiday. Directed by Norb Joerder with Musical Direction by Michael Horsley, the production is inspired by the classic movie featuring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, with Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin and Book by David Ives and Paul Blake; this is the perfect seasonal offering to set your spirits to right and get you ready for a wonderfully white Christmas! There’s dancing and romance, even a little snow up in Pine Tree, Vermont; this holiday classic will melt its way into your hearts this Christmas leaving a smile on your face and a twinkle of cheer in your eye.
Scenic Designer Kenneth Foy (adapting from Anna Louizos’ original Broadway creation) brings all the classic touches of the Christmas holiday to the set. A quaint and rustic barn up at the old Columbia Inn, a bustling train car to whisk the performers north of New York; Foy makes magic happen on the stage. It’s his color coordination with Costume Designer Carrie Robbins that really makes certain scenes pop to life like a twinkling Christmas card fresh from the snow-covered mailbox. Shiny ornaments set the backdrop for the Ed Sullivan show and Robbins’ costumes match the color scheme with a zesty holiday flare for this number.
Robbins’ work is exceptional as she mixes the holiday pallet with rich pine green suits for the gentlemen and peppermint candy-cane pink for the ladies. Again the clever moments of matching scenery to the performers’ outfits comes into play when Robbins sets the gentlemen in white suits and the ladies in black jumpsuits for the piano number in Act II, making them look as if they were piano keys jumping to life straight off the Steinway. The signature red-dress ending is wondrous and bright, radiating holiday cheer from the Haynes sisters’ dresses to the pressed and polished suits of Wallace and Davis. Together Robbins and Foy make a little holiday magic all their own with their visually stunning design work; the perfect splash of Christmas color and charm to please everyone’s eyes.
There’s plenty to look at in this resplendent production but nothing quite so amazing as tremendous amount of dancing that occurs throughout the show. Choreographer Randy Skinner pays tribute to some of the original movie dance scenes while making them lively and new; keeping the ensemble and principle performers in perpetual movement; breath-taking dance feats that result in frequent ovations from the audience. The tap break alone in “I Love a Piano,” is so crisp and executed with zealous flare that it warrants two rounds of applause before the dancers even finish this unending routine. Skinner infuses jazzy pizzazz into each of his routines, as evidenced in :Happy Holiday/Let Yourself Go” another epic tap routine that goes on in unending glory. The solo routines created for Judy and Phil are sensational during both “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “I Love a Piano,” Skinner’s fancy fun footwork really lighting up the show.
Cheery chipper voices radiate from the ensemble throughout the entire performance. “Snow” is the epitome of holiday happiness as the ensemble bounces along in the train car eagerly awaiting the seasonal stuff. Snoring Man (Cliff Bemis) makes a momentary burst worthy of note here with his strong and exceptionally clear vocal sound that literally erupts from nowhere in this scene. Carrying the tunes of the season with unwavering joy, the ensemble delivers each number with a glowing pride; the torch bearers of Christmas, their hearts aglow with indefatigable spirit which echoes brilliantly in numbers like “Blue Skies” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm.”
Gruff General Waverly (Joseph Costa) is how the song and dance men got their start ten years ago back when they were soldiers in his command during the war. Costa gives a rousing rendition of the retired General character and balances his barking nature against his more tender, albeit well-hidden, side. Costa plays well against his ‘commanding officer’ Miss Martha Watson (Ruth Williamson) and their bickering banter does strike a resemblance to that of an old married couple.
Williamson is an unexpected knock-out when it comes to owning her character. A little snarky with hints of sarcasm and melodrama burbling beneath the surface, she’s a salty creation that keeps everyone in line. But its Williamson’s sensational voice that is truly surprising. With a belt big enough to fill all of Vermont, the sound that comes flying out of her during “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” is astonishing, not to mention incredibly spirited. She plays the character with a boisterous flare, sprinkling humor into even the most awkward of situations like “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.”
Masters of the dance in this production are Judy Haynes (Meredith Patterson) and Phil Davis (David Elder). Hardly a moment goes by where the pair isn’t dancing together, right from the moment they first meet at Jimmy’s Back Room. Patterson and Elder have a flirtatious chemistry that provides the perfect foil to the almost caustic nature of Bob and Betty’s relationship; making them the “fun couple.” Patterson is sprightly and light on her feet, performing duets in perfect harmony with Elder during “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “I Love a Piano.”
Elder is a true comedian, knowing exactly how to land the punch lines when joking around with Bob Wallace (James Clow). It’s his chummy camaraderie with Clow that makes their friendship work as the show progresses, and when they perform their rendition of “Sisters” it’s quite the hoot. Practically brothers, Clow and Elder really nail the campy cornball aspects of their holiday performance at the beginning of the show, but maintain that brilliant sound all throughout the production.
James Clow, as the slightly standoffish Bob Wallace has a truly gifted sound in his voice. There is something picturesque painted in his melody when he first sings the title number of the show as a solo. While his character is often hard and almost brassy, he finds little moments in which to be more gentle, one of which includes the semi-duet with Susan (at this performance Grace Matwijec) “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” Matwijec is a precocious and talented young performer who gives the adults in this production a run for their money, especially when she solos in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy (Reprise.)”
It’s when Bob Wallace meets Betty Haynes (Trista Moldovan) that the story really gets interesting, but even before they officially meet they are singing together. Clow and Moldovan have voices like the weather itself for “Love and the Weather” clear and bright like the sun but with a storm of emotions lying underneath. They perform this duet on stage but not to one another; however their voices meld smoothly like a pair of vocal figure skaters, sliding around each other with panache and ease. Moldovan is particularly sharp-tongued and her emotional outbursts, particularly when directed at Clow are sizzling with little zaps of electricity.
Clow’s rendition of “Blue Skies” is smooth and jazzy while being hard-cut at the same time; a rich and rough depth of his confused emotional state in that moment seeps into the song as he slides and glides his way around the stage. A truly charismatic and charming performer, Clow gives us the classic ‘Bing Crosby’ treatment for Bob Wallace; a great voice with good heart through and through.
Don’t miss your chance to enjoy the frosty weather and wonderful songs— including a sing-a-long near the end of the show! It’s the perfect way to spend the holidays with ones you hold dear, so be sure to pop in to see Irving Berlin’s White Christmas while it’s still here!
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
White Christmas website.