BWW Reviews: It's a Fun, Energetic WHITE CHRISTMAS With Runaway Stage Productions
As one of the title characters sings in "White Christmas," the best things happen when you're dancing. But as is the case with Runaway Stage Productions' version of Irving Berlin's classic musical, sometimes the best things happen when you're watching the dancing.
Runaway Stage offers a strong palette of local talent with energetic performances, pleasant-enough singing and impressive dancing in its production of "White Christmas." The musical follows two veterans, also star dancers and singers with their own show, as they take a detour to Vermont and run into their old army general. The general needs some cheering up and the general's inn needs customers because of a lack of snow. The two veterans, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis decide to put on a show to honor the general. Of course, there are also two attractive lady singers, Betty and Judy Haynes, at the inn to keep the boys from leaving. Meanwhile, Martha the busybody, but lovable housekeeper can't help but cause trouble, and chaos is bound to ensue as the cast of Wallace and Davis' show has only five days to put together a show.
The musical, which was a movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney before being turned into a live musical, includes several favorite songs such as "Happy Holiday," "Snow," "I Love a Piano" and the title song, "White Christmas." For the most part, Runaway Stage's cast does these songs justice. Amy Jacques-Jones and Kris Farhood (Betty and Judy Haynes) have lovely voices. Troy Martin (Phil Davis) also has a pleasant, smooth voice, and Ruth Phillips (Martha) has an equally strong voice that enhances her comedic role. While the chorus looks odd and out of place physically (not to mention some hair styles not accurate to the period of the piece), they have a tight sound and deliver beautiful harmonies and energetic dances.
The choreography, by Darryl Strohl and Amy Jacques-Jones, gives the show much of its energy. Dancers accomplish much in a small space, particularly in the "Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" number, during which Judy and Phil utilize a table and chair and gorgeous waltz movements to create a magical experience. Director Bob Baxter does an excellent job in utilizing the entire platform in his staging, and the actors' energy keeps the show going at a fast pace. The energy is sometimes too high coming from the leads, but better too much than too little.
Unfortunately, that energy was somewhat misdirected on the part of Strohl, who tries too hard to be Bing Crosby in crucial songs like "White Christmas." Strohl needed to loosen his voice and let it flow. Too often, his singing came out flat, although his voice was passable during the song "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep." Strohl sounded just fine when he sang with other actors, however, and his acting and dancing stood out just as much as those of the rest of the cast.
The show's sets are simple, but effective. The minimal, but charming, sets did not take away from the magic of the production. While costumes were ill-fitted and sometimes not accurate to the time period, they were all colorful and pleasant to behold. The wigs were not so flattering, however. Judy's blonde wig didn't look right on Farhood, and although Betty's wig looked more natural, it was the wrong color, brown instead of the red referred to in the script. Kevin Sowles also needed something more as the general. His character is supposed to look at least ten years older than Martha, but Sowles looked just as young, if not younger than Phillips.
But you can't expect perfection from a community theatre company, and, in the end, Runaway Stage's production does not come short of magic and wonder. Complete with a full orchestra and fake snow projected into the audience during the "White Christmas" finale, this production will enchant most audiences and makes for a great holiday escape from reality.
Runaway Stage Productions at 24th Street Theatre in Sacramento, CA
Friday Dec 2 at 8 PM
Saturday Dec 3 at 8 PM
Sunday Dec 4 at 2 PM