‘White Christmas’ at Riverside Center Dinner Theater by Julia L. Exline

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Riverside Center Dinner Theater presents a magical production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Based on the classic 1954 film, Christopher Noffke directs and choreographs this charming musical that harkens back to a simpler time, and highlights the true values of Christmas.

Phil Davis (Erik J Clack) and Bob Wallace (Robert Teasdale). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theatre.
Phil Davis (Erik J Clack) and Bob Wallace (Robert Teasdale). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Technical Director Phil Carlucci and Scenic Designer David P. Stock have a tall order in this production, as there are multiple set changes, each one as detailed as the last. From a snow-covered WWII bunker, the glittery stage of The Ed Sullivan Show, a busy train, and a ramshackle barn (among others), this production takes the audience all over the place. Even though there are a number of them, the set changes are continually swift and professional.

Lighting Designer Joseph Wallen focuses spotlights on the characters while their shadows beautifully dance along in the background, and musical direction by Rollin E. Wehman ensures that all of the musical numbers are on-point and do not overwhelm the actors’ voices. Costume Designer Gaya Law brings back the optimistic post WWII era with fanciful suits, taffeta gowns, pleated skirts, and elbow-length white gloves.

It’s Christmas Eve, and Privates Bob Wallace (Robert Teasdale) and Phil Davis (Erik J. Clack) are entertaining their fellow men with a Christmas musical number. Hovering between interest and the demands of his authoritative role, General Henry Waverly (Robert Beard) cuts their show short. Davis and Wallace make an appealing pair, as Davis’ friendly, playboy character is nicely rounded out by the posh, careful nature of Wallace. Ten years later, Wallace and Davis become a successful song-and-dance team, and develop romantic (if unpredictable) ties with sister-act Betty Haynes (Sheri Hayden) and Judy Haynes (Rachel Broadwell). They travel to Vermont as a quartet, where General Waverly has opened an inn that is struggling to stay running. However, if the foursome can manage to put on a Broadway show in the inn’s barn (with just five days time!) they may have a chance of drawing a profitable audience to their former commanding officer’s failing business. Of course, misunderstandings, jealousy, and overall chaos plague their heartfelt plans, and this group must dig deep to find the strength they need to pull off a Christmas miracle!

Clack, Teasdale, Hayden, and Broadwell all possess excellent singing voices and are terrific hoofers. Noffke’s high-energy choreography has highly impressive ensemble work shown in numbers like “Let Yourself Go.” The dancers are decked out in matching white suits and hats for the memorable number “Blue Skies,” and the ensemble gets to show off their tap dancing talents in the upbeat number (and my personal favorite) “Piano.” Swing dancing also livens up the show and is a lot of fun to watch.

Maxine Gillespie (Martha Watson). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theatre.
Maxine Gillespie (Martha Watson). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Maxine Gillespie is hilarious as Martha Watson, the innkeeper who remembers her love for the stage in her song, “Let Me Sing, and I’m Happy,” and her bickering chemistry with Beard as the General adds some great laughs. Young Jillian Brence, who plays the General’s assertive young niece, Susan, does her own scene-stealing take on “Let Me Sing, and I’m Happy.” I also loved the closing number, when snowfall flutters from overhead as the ensemble sings “White Christmas” directly to the audience.

The sense of community strength and people coming together to create something remarkable is an important Christmas ideal, and this production displays that value in spades.

The talented cast of Riverside Center Dinner Theater’s White Christmas is highly enthusiastic, and their joy is infectious. This holiday classic is an old–fashioned, family-friendly production, worthy of a holiday outing.

Betty Haynes (Sheri Hayden) and Judy Haynes (Rachel Broadwell). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.
Betty Haynes (Sheri Hayden) and Judy Haynes (Rachel Broadwell). Photo courtesy of Riverside Center Dinner Theater.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission.

White Christmas plays through January 4, 2014 at Riverside Center Dinner Theatre– 95 Riverside Parkway, Fredericksburg, VA. For reservations and tickets, call (540) 370-4300.