BWW Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS at Des Moines Performing Arts: A Christmas Card Comes To Life On Stage
While Thanksgiving may be late this year, we are a little over a month away from the Christmas holiday. Des Moines Performing Arts is jumping into the holiday season. Tuesday evening, they opened the return engagement of "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," which runs through Sunday, November 24. Watching this production was like opening a Christmas Card, and I found myself smiling from beginning to end. I am excited to share what made this production fun to watch.
"Irving Berlin's White Christmas" is one of two productions playing this holiday season featuring members of the military. This story starts with two friends, Captain Bob Wallace and Private First Class Phil Davis, serving during World War 2, who are putting on a show to pick up the spirits of the troops who are serving over the holiday seasons. When they return home, we next see them on the Ed Sullivan show after making it big on Broadway. Their plans are the head south are put on hold for the winter when they see the sisters act of one of their fellow service member's sisters who are headed north to perform. The place the girls are going to happens to be a hotel owned by their Major General. When the men find out the hotel is facing closing, they decide with the girls to put on a show to cheer him up and save the hotel. When a misunderstanding from a phone call comes, the plans could all come crashing down. Like every classic Christmas movie, this gift of a show has a happy ending will put a smile on your face.
What caused me to smile from throughout the show? There were many, but one of my favorites was the beautiful choreography of Randy Skinner. While most shows have one tap number, this show has many throughout. One of my favorites had to be "I Love a Piano." The choreography, when combined with Carrie Robbin's beautiful costumes, black and white, made a line across the stage similar to the keys of a piano. Another part of the show I loved was the beautiful sets designed by Kenneth Foy that were able to quickly be changed as we moved from scene to scene rapidly through the show. I also loved how the sets combined with the costumes made the show look like a beautiful Christmas card come to life.
A cast of tremendous actors brings these characters to the stage. Many of the performances were larger than life, which fit the story perfectly. These characteristics are seen in the performances of Lorna Luft, daughter of the late Judy Garland, as Martha Washington, and Star Trek's Conrad John Schuck as General Henry Waverly. What I appreciated about their performances is that they didn't rely on the celebrity they brought to the show to elevate their performance. They both brought a heart that made us care about their characters.
The lovable sisters Betty and Judy Haynes, played by Kelly Conte and Kelly Sheehan respectively, bring the heart to this show. The way they show the differences in how the sisters view love. The differences they bring to the sisters made them endearing, and as their thoughts on love change, we felt the pain that led to the changes. One moment that stuck out to me was when Betty (Conte) believes that Bob Wallace has been lying. I found myself wanting to reach out and let her character know the truth of the situation.
Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, played respectively by David Elder and Drew Humphry, bring the commitment and loyalty of our service members to stage. Their performances highlighted the length people who have served in the military will go to help a fellow service member. As we watched them lift the spirits of those serving as well as someone who had served, our spirits as audience members were raised as well.
If you are looking for something to do this week, head on down to Des Moines Performing Arts to see this production that is like a Christmas card coming to life on stage. From the phenomenal choreography and costumes to the beautiful sets and larger than life cast, each aspect of this production will have you smiling from ear to ear. Tickets for "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" can be purchased by visiting https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/events/irving-berlins-white-christmas/
Up next at for the Willis Broadway Series is the add on national tour of "Bandstand," a musical about service members who form a band consisting of service members. "Bandstand" will be here for two performances on December 13 and 14.
Review written by DC Felton
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