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BWW Review: Ocean State Theatre Rings in Holidays with Lackluster WHITE CHRISTMAS

Movies to musicals and musicals to movies. It's been a regular occurrence for years, although it seems that recently it's been happening more and more. Sometimes, the transition from movie to musical, or vice versa, works perfectly and can be pulled off without a hitch. Sometimes it fails miserably. The musical version of the 1954 classic holiday movie White Christmas is neither of these things. It's not spectacular, nor is it a failure. It's uneven, at best, something that is made worse by an uneven and surprisingly disappointing production currently running at Ocean State Theatre Company.

Our heroes are Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, two old army buddies who fought side-by-side during World War II. We first meet them during the war's waning days, when they are under the command of General Henry Waverly. Fast-forward ten years, it's the Christmas of 1954 and the two men are famous singers and showmen, stars of Broadway and the Ed Sullivan Show. On this Christmas, they meet a "sister act," Judy and Betty Haynes, and the four of them end up on a train bound for an inn in Vermont, where the Haynes sisters are booked to perform. To their surprise, the inn is actually owned by the former general. Bob and Phil decide to help out their beloved former commander by putting on a big show at the inn, with the help of the Haynes sisters and all of their talented Broadway friends.

This musical version has music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by David Ives and Paul Blake. The classic, beloved songs are all in there and are the reason why many, if not most, would attend the musical. Most of the classic scenes are still in there, although a few things happen in a different order or with a slight tweak to the proceedings. One of the climactic scenes, for example, is changed because it's just not possible to recreate it in any theater in any city for any production. That particular change is pretty anticlimactic and disappointing, but understandable given that the confines of a stage version make it necessary. Other than that, the movie's trappings remain largely intact and those who love the movie will likely love, or at least enjoy, the musical version.

The problem here is that the tone of the production is all over the place and the whole thing feels much too subdued. Maybe it's just the night my friend and I were there, and it was just a very low-energy night for the cast. With direction and choreography by Paula Hammons Sloan, the whole thing just feels lackluster, or at least lacking. There's a spark that isn't there enough, an energy that never materializes. It doesn't help that one minute it wants to be sincere, genuine and real, but the next moment, it wants to be corny, cheeseball fun. It might be better to pick one and stick with it.

Part of the problem is in the casting, which Ocean State rarely misfires on. Here, though, Sloan has put some actors into roles who don't really fit the part. She's also made some acting choices with those actors that make it feel as if certain characters are in a completely different play from everyone else. Also frustrating is the choreography, which is unfortunate since this turns out to be a very big dance show. During the performance I saw, in almost every number, there was at least one dancer who was not in synch with everyone else, always a second or two behind, and not because they were supposed to be. There are, though, a couple of nice musical numbers, including the very cute "Snow" on a train, the endearing "I Love a Piano," and the big climactic singing of the title song.

Leading the large cast is the always reliable Nate Suggs as Bob Wallace. He doesn't disappoint here as he turns in one of the very best performances of the production. He's always very real and very genuine, playing things straight and sticking to the character's truth while never becoming cheesy or cornball. At times, it really feels like he's the only one doing that and everyone else is in an entirely different show.

While Joel Kipper has proven himself in the past to be an undeniably talented performer, his performance here is confounding. It's hard to say what he's trying to do or pull off, but it doesn't really work. It never feels real or genuine, it's more as though he's trying too hard to do something. It's often over the top in an unnecessary way and feels out of place, especially during some of his scenes with Suggs.

As Judy Haynes and Betty Haynes, respectively, Maria Logan and Stefani Wood do a nice job, but nothing about the performances really stands ouT. Wood has a beautiful voice but doesn't bring much charisma or energy to the role. Logan doesn't get to sing much, but she has some great acting moments and is clearly talented as a comic actress. It doesn't help matters that neither one of them has much chemistry with their male counterparts. There is very little spark between Wood and Suggs (and the Bob and Betty relationship feels much more fake and forced in the musical version). Kipper and Logan have a bit more chemistry and at least have some cute and funny moments and a couple of nice musical moments together as well.

Two standouts in the cast are Mark S. Cartier and Susann Fletcher, as General Waverly and his innkeeper/concierge Martha Watson. Cartier is always outstanding in everything and doesn't disappoint here, giving some very touching and relatable moments. Fletcher has fantastic comic timing and delivery and a wonderful singing voice that is the show's best surprise. Casey Nadzam is also a great surprise in an impressive performance as the general's sassy granddaughter Susan Waverly.

One other surprise, not in a good way, is the set by William Davis. Ocean State has had such gorgeous, well-appointed sets in the past, this one is really dismal. There's something very amateurish about it, or a feeling that so much time was spent crating a fake barn look that not enough attention could be paid to anything else. On the other hand, the costumes by Emily Taradash are fantastic and there are some wonderful lighting touches by David A. Sexton.

More than anything, this production just turns out to be an unusual exception to the usually strong productions put together by Ocean State, especially when it comes to musicals. In terms of creating the energy and spirit of the holidays and this beloved movie-now-musical, this one is much more of a flurry than a blizzard.

White Christmas will be presented at Ocean State Theatre from November 30 - December 24. Performances will be held Wednesday (except December 7), Thursday (except December 8), Friday, and Saturday (except December 24) evenings at 7:30 pm, with matinees on Thursdays (except December 15), Saturdays (except December 3) and Sundays (except December 18) at 2:00 pm. Special Sunday, December 18 at 12:00 noon and 5:00 pm and Tuesday, December 20 at 7:30 pm. The theatre is located at 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI. Tickets are $39-$59 for all performances. $30 "Rush" tickets are available on a limited basis one hour prior to curtain on the day of the performance. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Friday from 12 noon - 6:00 pm, Saturdays from 12 noon - 4:00 pm, and from 12 noon until curtain time on performance days. Tickets are also available online 24 hours a day at www.OceanStateTheatre.org and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling 401-921-6800.

Pictured: Joel Kipper and Maria Logan. Photo by Mark Turek


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