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Regional Review: White Christmas in San Francisco

What's red and white and serves up generous amounts of old-fashioned corn?

It's playing at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco until New Year's Eve.

White Christmas returned to San Francisco this week after last year's successful holiday run at the Curran Theatre, and this year boasts separate productions in Boston and Los Angeles. This production in San Francisco is the first of the three to open; Los Angeles' will open at the Pantages on Nov. 22, and Boston's will open at at the Wang Center on Nov. 25. All three are directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Randy Skinner.

White Christmas makes no apologies for its sentimentality, but then again, no one goes to see a show like White Christmas expecting to see something edgy or groundbreaking. They go because it makes them feel warm and cozy and reminds them of snow and gingerbread.


Nicole Bocchi, Susan Mansur, Charles Dean, Kate Baldwin, Graham Rowat, Mark Ledbetter,
and Shannon O'Bryan in the San Francisco production of White Christmas. © David Allen Studios

Based on the 1954 film of the same name, White Christmas follows the story of two song-and-dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Graham Rowat and Mark Ledbetter), who began their careers entertaining their comrades ten years prior during World War II. While on the road, Bob and Phil catch the sister act of the less successful Betty and Judy Haynes (Kate Baldwin and Shannon O'Bryan).

Ladies' man Phil is set on setting up cynical Bob with Betty, while Phil has his own eye on Judy. Phil tricks Bob into following the sisters to their next gig at a small inn in Vermont, which is run by none other than Bob and Phil's former commanding officer. A wacky, wayward romantic comedy plot unfolds, as Bob and Phil decide to save the debt-ridden inn.

Boyish, gangly Ledbetter (who was in the ensemble of last year's production) shows us Phil isn't all flirt, as the character slowly matures from woman chaser to a man looking to settle down, and O'Bryan is all sunshine as the slick and confident Judy.

Phil and Judy are given an extensive dance sequence after their first meeting, and while Ledbetter and O'Bryan are appealing dancers, it seems rather early in the plot for the audience to care enough to watch these characters for that long. The scene is entertaining, though its duration is hard to ignore.

Bob and Betty are the couple who carries the plot, however, and Rowat and Baldwin -- married in real life -- are more than up to the task.

Rowat's resonant baritone is a real treat, especially in the introspective "Count Your Blessings," and he's just as enjoyable in the more comedic scenes. Rowat's facial expressions are hysterical during "Snow," as Bob comes to realize he's boarded the wrong train.

Baldwin is stunning throughout, though most memorably in "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," Betty's big Manhattan debut number. Not surprisingly, she plays very well off Rowat. Their first meeting is a funny scene on its own, but it also emphasizes Bob and Betty are similar in that behind those talented performers are two socially awkward individuals.

Susan Mansur plays the prickly concierge and former stage performer, Martha Watson -- imagine if Thoroughly Modern Millie's Mrs. Meers were sane -- who was once told she was loud by Ethel Merman. Mansur expresses Martha's intense love for the stage in the brassy "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," a top-hat-and-cane number which could be trite in less capable hands, but is delightful in Mansur's.

9-year-old Nicole Bocchi, as the innkeeper's precocious granddaughter, Susan, seemed slightly nervous early on, but warmed up considerably, stealing the show when she finally sang in Act 2.

Tom Deckman was an audience favorite as a flustered stage manager bordering on hysteria, and Frank Kopyc brought giggles as the monosyllabic, snail's-pace farmhand, Ezekiel. ("He came with the barn," Martha flatly tells Susan.)

The ensemble is especially energetic and lively -- you'll get tired just thinking about how many scenes they're in.

Costume designer Carrie Robbins has given everyone snuggly winter wear, as well as some lovely dresses for the Haynes sisters and period-appropriate, outlandish Christmas wear for the more involved dance numbers.

Although small, the audience at last week's preview was decidedly enthusiastic. Let's hope such fervor continues for the rest of the run, and that these audience members spread the word. This show deserves to be seen.

White Christmas runs at the Orpheum Theatre until Dec. 31. For tickets or more information, go to http://www.shnsf.com or http://www.whitechristmasthemusical.com.

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From This Author Leanna Yip

Leanna was born, bred and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in online fundraising for non-profits, but in the past has (read more...)