Review: WHITE CHRISTMAS at Arizona Broadway Theatre

The production runs through December 30th.

By: Nov. 30, 2023
Review: WHITE CHRISTMAS at Arizona Broadway Theatre

The spirit of the Yuletide season is in full and pleasurable bloom at Arizona Broadway Theatre.

The company’s production of Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS, directed by Rob Watson, leaves no snowball unturned in delivering a show that lights the fire in one’s heart and virtually re-connects you with good old-fashioned virtues.

Sure, the references (the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower, Oxydol) may be dated and unfamiliar to younger generations (the film from which the musical is adapted premiered in 1954), but the themes ~ love, duty, fidelity ~ are timeless and priceless.

The story is simple and familiar enough, seasoned with cute twists that make for good romantic comedy and just the right dash of human kindness.

When we first lay eyes on show biz buddies Bob Wallace (Alex Fullerton) and Phil Davis (Loren Stone), they’re entertaining the troops on Christmas Eve 1944, hours before the regiment moves on to one of the most decisive and brutal offensives of World War II. Their commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (Bob Downing), stops by to advise the men that he has been ordered back to the U.S. to “get this German buckshot taken out of my leg.”

Fast forward ten years and the team of Wallace and Davis are working a song-and-dance act that they hope will get them booked on the Ed Sullivan Show (the Sunday night must-watch variety show that was on the air from 1948 to 1971). Their plans for the big time in the Big Apple are literally derailed when a flirtation between Phil and Judy (Elyssa Blonder), one half of the singing Haynes sisters, lands the foursome on a train to a lodge in Vermont. It’s only a matter of time until Bob and Betty (Renee Kathleen Koher) light their own romantic fire…but not without a few bumps on the road to true love.

When they arrive at their destination, Bob and Phil discover that the lodge is owned by Henry Waverly. The General is on the verge of bankruptcy. Fortunate for him that he's got a highly devoted housekeeper, Martha (Lynzee Foreman) and a precocious granddaughter, Susan (in this production, a precious and impressive 11-year-old Laney Hoekstra, who shares the role with Kinley Stratton) to keep him in tow. What ensues and rounds out the story from a tale of red ink to a skyful of white joy is the loyalty of two soldiers to their former CO.

A production with this high level of quality owes its success to the seamless coordination between the musical direction of Mark Ceppetelli (the orchestra kicks the show into high gear with a rousing overture and doesn’t stop) and the choreography of Lauran Stanis (the ensemble, likewise, sparkles with style and energy). There’s a third essential ingredient that makes this show click ~ and that is ABT’s triple threat, Artistic Producer Cassandra Norville Klaphake, who, for this joy-to-the-world production of WHITE CHRISTMAS, cast the show and designed a fashion show of glittering costumes.

Of course, WHITE CHRISTMAS is all Berlin with compositions that have become essential parts of the Great American Songbook. In the end, it is the score that shares the spotlight and makes the old chestnut an enduring and endearing staple of the American theatre. With classics like SistersBlue Skies, and How Deep Is the Ocean, how can an audience not feel like it's in music heaven! Some of the songs, in this edition of the show, have been made even more memorable by the power of their renditions ~ Stone and Blonder with I Love A Piano and Fullerton and Koher with Count Your Blessings.

Two performances merit special note:

In a performance of Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me that shines with elegance and aplomb and a voice that rings true to the song’s lyrics, Renee Kathleen Koher does what she always does ~ she excels.

Lynzee Foreman delivers a crisp turn as Waverly’s lovable, supportive, and very frank innkeeper. In what is a transformational moment (no other way to say it!), she blows the roof of the house with a rousing delivery of Let Me Sing and I’m Happy (so well done that this reviewer nearly forgot that the song was originally and famously recorded by Al Jolson in 1929.)

The bottom line: In its tradition of consistent quality programming, Arizona Broadway Theatre has delivered another that resonates with the kind of good cheer that befits this Holiday Season.

WHITE CHRISTMAS runs through December 30th.

Arizona Broadway Theatre ~ ~ 7701 W. Paradise Lane, Peoria, AZ ~ 623-776-8400

Graphic credit to Arizona Broadway Theatre