BWW Reviews: WHITE CHRISTMAS Brings the Holidays Early to Syracuse Stage
Irving Berlin'S WHITE CHRISTMAS is exactly what it should be: a sensational holiday feel-good experience. One that worships warm reds and greens, fervent Christmas trees, musings of snow and the cozy thoughts of sipping "hot cocoa."
For Syracuse Stage, the classic 1954 film turned Broadway musical marks its biggest production to date. With over 200 costumes, 30 cast members and a 12-piece orchestra, this show is truly decked out with cheery, seasonal pizzazz. Directed by Paul Barnes and choreographed by David Wanstreet, this production doesn't miss a detail when transporting the audience back to 1954, small town Vermont.
Irving Berlin's new traditional favorite follows the silly story of two army pals who have entered the world of showbiz. Bob Wallace (Denis Lambert) and Phil Davis (Craig Waletzko) have come back from the war and made it big as Broadway entertainers and producers, especially after their recent performance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The two buds meet their match when they encounter their identical, rambunctiously reserved pair, The Haynes Sisters-Betty and Judy-played by Zakiya Young and Mary Michael Patterson. It's a Romeo and Juliet love at first sight kind of thing, sort of. As the foursome head to Vermont for the holidays, seasonal tomfoolery is afoot.
The storyline is commonplace, and the romances seem whimsical. But, that's not really the point of this musical. The highlight tends to come from the fuzzy feelings that the Christmas songs induce; wrap it up with brilliant voices and sensational dancing, and the show is quite entertaining.
Syracuse Stage's rendition of the beloved holiday classic is vibrant and nostalgic. It's the perfect Christmas card for the holiday season. Each scene is glowing, and the passion radiating off the ensemble is tangible.
Noting that that Stage chose colorblind casting for the role of Betty Haynes, traditionally a white-led role, Young delivers a sultry, fresh-if sometimes too reserved-performance of the ambitious singer. Pair her with the adorable, boy-next-door Lambert, and the duets are scrumptious. The two characters, who fall in and out of love and have more of a "bah humbug" archetype, share a connection that may seem a little stoic. Perhaps it's the pace of the book, but the relationship never seemed to grow and rooting for the hopeful couple becomes less of a desire and more of a backseat notion.
Their counterparts, Davis and Judy, are full of energy and affection toward each other. As they dance and sing together, their romance is a little more believable. Patterson delivers a not-so-humble aspiring performer who uses her wit to get where she wants. Her voice is crisp and light, and when matched with Waletzko's comedy, it's delightful.
Mary Jo Mecca (Martha Watson) was the no-nonsense, dramatic heavyweight within the show. The mother-type with the heart of gold, Mecca delivered a fabulous, boisterous performance. Her song "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" was brassy and humbling. Her comedic character was one that commanded the stage, deservedly. The song "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," between Mecca, Young and Patterson was astounding. The three-part harmonies were decadent and the passion was appreciable.
However, what really makes this show pop with holiday glam goes beyond the principles. Scenic designer William Bloodgood constructed multiple sets that reflected the era, the holiday and the feeling of the season. With warmness at the Columbia Inn and seediness at Jimmy's club, the set is admirable and reminiscent of Christmastime.
The costumes are a dazzling complement to the colorful set. Costume designer Susan Branch Towne performed a miracle: whipping up 200 period, stylish and vivid costumes. Each costume somehow echoed the 50s show business, yet reserved nature and grabbed a simple, seasonal sparkle.
Perhaps the best part of this rendition of WHITE CHRISTMAS is the show-stopping dance numbers. The ensemble, students from Syracuse University, was incredible. The tap, ballroom and jazz numbers were crisp and together and an ideal gem of the show. The company brought dynamic spirit to the production and the marvelous tap numbers really stole the show.
What's great about a show like WHITE CHRISTMAS is that is captures the best part of classic musicals. There's an overture, an entr'acte, long, lovingly laborious dance numbers and the over-the-top nature that accompanies a show like this. It's a simple premise of better selves, relationships and lifelong friendships. But, it's one of those shows that details why theatre can be so breathtaking on all artistic levels.
It makes everyone wish for a little more snow.
Photo: Michael Davis