In a recent Twitter poll conducted by the National Weather Service, 70% of respondents voted they would welcome a Christmas Eve snowstorm if it meant a white Christmas. But, if you are truly “dreaming of a white Christmas,” Ocean State Theatre Company’s production of Irving Berlin’s holiday classic White Christmas just might have to do.
Making her OSTC directorial debut, Paula Hammons Sloan presents a charming but very dated musical depicting a far simpler time when people actually cared about the true meaning of Christmas! She also takes charge of the choreography, which is understated and not very complex.
Featuring a steady, but unspectacular cast, this holiday production doesn’t really delve into all that Christmassy cheer and sappiness until the final scene. But, if you are looking for some warm wholesome fun this holiday season, Berlin’s score alone will suffice.
Based on the beloved 1954 Bing Crosby movie, the musical follows the successful song-and-dance act of veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis following World War II. Starring as regulars on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the two have gone on to achieve Hollywood fame. But they become smitten by a sister act, Judy and Betty Haynes, and end up following the pair to Vermont for their gig at a country inn.
Shortly after arriving at the Columbia Inn, Wallace and Davis learn that it is owned by their former Army Commander General Henry Waverly. They also discover that their old friend has run up quite a bit of debt, and the inn is in serious financial trouble.
They enlist the aid of the Haynes sisters and plan a huge Christmas Eve concert to help raise money to save the inn. But, after a series of mishaps and miscommunication, the event looks doubtful, leaving the future of the inn in jeopardy. But, since this is based on a Hollywood script, all works out and the inn is saved and love is in the air – as well as falling snow during the Christmas eve concert!
With Berlin’s magical score serving as the highlight of this musical, the five-piece orchestra, led by John Jay Espino, is certainly up to the task, sounding clean and crisp throughout the opening night performance.
The set designers also rise to the task creating a wonderful barn, with weathered wooden boards and two large sliding barn doors. They also beautifully capture the charm a of rustic, wintery inn. The outside view, with stacks of wood and candles in the windows, looks like a postcard.
The production features several ensemble pieces, with lots of tap dancing, that never really deliver a knock-out punch. “Let Yourself Go,” the first big group number, is fun and energetic, but falls a bit short. The next number, “Love and the Weather,” presents some fine vocals by Nate Suggs (Bob Wallace) and Stefani Wood (Betty Haynes). Here we quickly figure out who will end up with whom: the pessimists, Betty and Bob, will inevitability fall for one another; and the optimists, Phil and Judy, both schemers who hit it off instantly.
In a clever twist, during many of the song-and-dance numbers, the audience become part of the show, serving as spectators at The Ed Sullivan Show and at the Christmas Eve concert. This leads to a couple of delightful sing-a-longs with audience participation.
As the lead in the male duo, Suggs has a nice, measured voice that comes up big during “Blue Skies” and a cozy “White Christmas.” Opposite him, Wood possesses the show’s finest pipes; she really shines in “Count Your Blessings” and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me/How Deep Is the Ocean?”.
OSTC co-founder, Joel Kipper (Phil Davis) is great fun to watch with some nicely timed physical comedy. His singing voice is just OK and, the longer a dance number proceeds, the more rigid he becomes. As his female counter-part, Maria Logan (Judy Haynes) is pleasant enough, and certainly much lighter on her feet.
Susan Fletcher as one-time starlet “Megaphone” Martha Watson, has some great scene-stealing moments as the inn keeper trying to finagle her way into the Christmas Eve show. The former, and aging, star is wonderful during “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” punctuated by some impressive Rockettes-like leg kicks.
As General Henry Waverly, Mark S. Cartier — OSTC’s resident curmudgeon — comes off as too one dimensional, never really allowing the audience to become invested in him.
OCTSC’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs through December 24, For tickets or more information visit: oceanstatetheatre.org.