BWW Review: WHITE CHRISTMAS Brings Holiday Cheer to the Saenger Theatre
Although New Orleans doesn't usually get snow for the holidays, the stage production of Irving Berlin's WHITE CHRISTMAS - THE MUSICAL is an excellent substitution filled with holiday spirit and cheer.
WHITE CHRISTMAS, which opened Tuesday at the Saenger Theatre and runs until Sunday, is based on the 1954 movie of the same name, starring Bing Crosby, and captures the celebration of classic song and dance that can only be found from the Golden Age of Broadway musicals. The resulting production is one that provides an energetic, retro romp that is a perfect treat just before the Christmas holiday.
The musical follows the cynic Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and ladies' man Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), two former soldiers who turn to the life of showbiz after WWII. On the road, they discover sister-singers Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy Haynes (Kelly Sheehan) in New York and follow them to Vermont to try to woo them to join their act. There the former soldiers discover that the failing inn where the sisters are performing is owned by their former commanding officer, and The Four Singers decide to hold a benefit show to save the inn while discovering love along the way.
Adapted for the stage by David Ives and Paul Blake, WHITE CHRISTMAS captures the joy and flair of a 1950s musical and translates it into a live performance that is sure to have toes tapping in the aisle. With great tap dancing and large ensemble dance numbers, WHITE CHRISTMAS is visually appealing while mixed with sentimentality and spirit.
The chemistry between the actors adds to the overall charm of the story. The exuberant Phil and Judy hit it off right from the start, falling for each other during, "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," with Sheehan and Benton making for a winsome pair. Likewise, the jaded and defensive Bob and Betty go together like oil and water, but their feelings for each other are crystal clear thanks to Montgomery and Conte's performances, specifically in "How Deep is the Ocean." As for the song-and-dance duos, Montgomery and Benton are a treat to watch with their respective serious and goofball demeanors, while Conte and Sheehan play off each other so well, they could be mistaken for actual sisters.
The remaining cast could not be more ideal. Broadway veterans Conrad John Schuck and Karen Ziemba are delights to watch. As General Henry Waverly, Schuck portrays a gruff and lovable veteran who is unaware of his establishment's troubles due to the meddling of his busybody, yet kind-hearted, manager Martha Watson (Ziemba). Ziemba demonstrates a vibrant spunk as Watson and was a fan favorite of the night with her wisecracks and a splendid rendition of "Let Me Sing, and I'm Happy." Following in her footsteps is the general's granddaughter Susan (Maykayla Joy Connolly) who belts a delightful reprise of Martha's number. Precious and endearing Connolly is a star on the rise in her own right.
This lavish production is directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner with high energy and tour de force choreography that brings the 50's era to life. With gorgeous sets designed by Anna Louizos and adapted by Kenneth Foy, WHITE CHRISTMAS is an old-fashioned Christmas card brought to life, aided by the luminescent lighting designs by Ken Billington. Carrie Robbins' costumes serve as the angel on top of the tree with sweeping skirts and pops of color.
The show's standout songs and dances include "Blue Skies" and "I Love a Piano," two pieces rehearsed for the inn's benefit concert. While they don't relate to anything involving Christmas, Montgomery's crooning voice and rhythmic dance moves in "Blue Skies" captures the days of old that featured big names like Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire. "I Love A Piano" plays out a fun duet between Phil and Judy featuring what is quite possibly one of the best tap dance scenes to have graced the Saenger stage.
WHITE CHRISTMAS is an energetic way to start your Christmas holiday. The electric energy is can't-miss excitement, but it is the nostalgic magic of classic musicals that holds the heart of this production.