White Christmas – Union Tribune by James Hebert

 In Reviews

White Christmas’ has dreamy appeal
Sumptuous (if slightly long) holiday show returns in fine form

By James Hebert

Dear Santa, you know those folks who bolted from “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” just as the curtain call started on opening night? Please spare them the extra coal in their stocking. They’ve missed out on one nice little gift already.

(And anyway, maybe they had some last-minute Black Friday lines to go stand in.)

It’s true that as holiday shows go, San Diego Musical Theatre’s sumptuous production of this movie-based musical — which runs close to three hours, with one intermission — isn’t exactly your drive-through variety of holiday cheer.

But a few slack spots aside, it’s a worthy and thoroughly entertaining spectacle, with visual splash and musical riches to spare.

And that curtain call, with the full company decked out in yet another set of the production’s impressively festive costumes (coordinated by Janet Pitcher), adds an extra yuletide surprise that underlines the show’s title.

(It won’t be new to those who’ve seen this SDMT favorite in previous years, but it’s a fun touch nevertheless.)

In their fourth season of staging the musical, based on the classic 1954 film that starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, director Todd Nielsen and Co. have this “White Christmas” cruising along like a sleek and well-turned toboggan.

San Diego Musical Theatre, in residence for the second year at the Spreckels Theatre downtown, has champagne tastes in general, and this production showcases the company’s admirable, do-it-big philosophy with 28 cast members and a full 22-piece band.

The orchestra, under the expert musical direction of Don LeMaster, stays onstage throughout the performance, adding that vintage big-band feel to performances of such Berlin classics as “Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and the title number.

The elegantly clad musicians are arrayed onstage in bandstands that more or less function as the show’s set, augmented by projections, a few scrims and Michael Von Hoffman’s vibrant lighting. (Kevin Anthenill’s sound design does very well by the orchestra and vocalists, achieving crisp tones in what can be a tricky venue.)

The cast is led by a quartet of top talents, all of whom have a history with the production.

David Engel, a smooth-voiced Broadway veteran who made for a memorable Harold Hill in Moonlight Stage Productions’ “The Music Man” last summer, plays Bob Wallace. He’s the hoofer who joined forces with pal Phil Davis (the versatile dancer-singer Jeffrey Scott Parsons) when they were still in the armed forces, as seen in a brief World War II-era prologue. Now it’s 1954, and the two performers have become major stars.

Through the machinations of singer-dancer Judy Haynes (Tro Shaw), who performs with her sister Betty (Allison Spratt Pearce), the two duos begin to mesh romantically — although Bob and Betty less comfortably (and more comically).

Shaw and Pearce are both seasoned pros with powerful voices (Pearce has an especially arresting moment on the torch tune “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”)

As the plot to boost the morale of Bob and Phil’s beloved old general (Ed Hollingsworth) develops at his failing Vermont inn, there are also good supporting turns by Karla J. Franko, William Cobb, Katie Whalley Banville and Siri Hafso (the latter two as a chirpy, flirty twosome pursuing Phil), plus such ensemble standouts as Kyle Hawk, Max Cadillac and Debra Wanger.

And once again, young Claire Scheper (as the general’s granddaughter) steps in with a stirring turn on “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”

You can count on her voice to bring the house down. And (who knows?) maybe the snow, too.

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