Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: Holiday Classic WHITE CHRISTMAS Takes the Stage At Shaw Festival

Review: Holiday Classic WHITE CHRISTMAS Takes the Stage At Shaw Festival

The Shaw Festival is presenting their joyous version this year on the Festival stage and the result is pure technicolor heaven.

Christmas traditions may come and go, but watching the film WHITE CHRISTMAS has always been an obligatory part of the holiday season for me. And for the past 20 years or so, audiences can experience Irving Berlin's classic live on stage. The Shaw Festival is presenting their joyous version this year on the Festival stage and the result is pure technicolor heaven.

The Shaw Festival began presenting holiday shows with A CHRISTMAS CAROL, HOLIDAY INN and now can add WHITE CHRISTMAS to the roster. The production values and talent is universally at a high level, and I believe some of the best dancing ever to grace that stage is being seen in Allison Plamondon's exquisite choreography.

The action begins on the battlefield of World War II in 1944 and two GI's present a Christmas show for the troops. Flash forward to 1954 and those two are now theatre stars. They cross paths with a sister act and through a series of hijinks they are all on a train to Vermont and are producing a Broadway show at an Inn in 5 days!

Jeff Irving is Bob Wallace, the sensible level headed one, who sings with a thrilling voice and dances just as well. Kevin McLachlan is the playboy, suave dancing man Phil Davis. Always looking for his next girl, he falls head over heels in love with half of the sister act Betty, played by Mary Antonini. Meanwhile Alexis Gordon is the no nonsense other sister Judy, whose statuesque presence and throaty singing voice command attention.

When McLachlan and Antonini pair up to dance, we are instantly thrown back to the MGM musicals of old. The two glide lithely in "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing." But the Act II opener "I Love A Piano" nearly stopped the show as the duo again takes center stage. This song, along with others, has been interpolated from The Irving Berlin songbook in addition to the familiar movie score of WHITE CHRISTMAS. It begins gently, adds a bunch of chirping chorines, ala Busby Berkeley, and morphs into a glorious tap dance number that sails along an onstage keyboard floor and up and down a staircase. The choreography is complicated, yet looked effortless

In ACT II Bob and Judy eventually fall in love, just like the other pair. Ms. Gordon looks and sounds drop dead gorgeous as she sings the torch song, "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me," as Mr. Irving sings the Berlin hit "How Deep Is The Ocean" in pensive counterpoint.

Jenni Burke near steals every scene she is in as the wise cracking Innkeeper Martha Watson. Her larger than live personality and smile landed every joke. Her singing voice was the huskiest gravel this reviewer has every heard, yet she knows how to sell a number. Her rendition of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" truly exuded joy. When she paired up with the two gals in "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," the trio proved the power of a sensible woman.

David Alan Anderson is General Henry Waverly, the commander of the troops who makes a major life change when he opens the Vermont Inn. Full of bluster and authority, it proved the butt of many jokes from Martha. His visiting young granddaughter Susan (played by Payton Mills) got her chance to shine in the spotlight as she attempted to join the show. Her singing and dancing were right on par with the rest of the pros on stage.

Director Kate Hennig never takes the show too seriously and the light handed touch was appreciated. This isn't Shaw or Chekhov we're talking about! Some comic elements with the slower than molasses stage hand Ezekiel Foster garnered multiple laughs as played by Drew Plummer. The large ensemble sang and danced their hearts out. Each member was clearly given an individual personality, which made the number "Snow" more jubilant as everyone was crammed on a train heading to Vermont.

The entire cast looked smashing in the multiple costumes designed by Judith Bowden. The fashions of the 1950's evoke such a sense of nostalgia for that simpler era, but always looked classy, even when dressed down. High waisted trousers, pleated skirts and a myriad of patterns and colors lit up the stage. The purist in me did miss the long red velvet gowns for the ladies in the finale as they reprised "White Christmas," but that's a minor quibble.

Music direction by Paul Sportelli was crisp and his orchestra played the score with clarion sound.

I'm all for keeping this gem of a production in the Shaw Festival's holiday rotation. This year I'll skip watching that famous film with Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. This production was more than enough to keep a smile on my face for the season,

WHITE CHRISTMAS runs through December 23, 2022 at the Festival Theatre of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Contact shawfest.com for more information.



Video: See Highlights From THINGS I KNOW TO BE TRUE By Andrew Bovell Photo
David Mirvish and The Company Theatre, one of Toronto's most acclaimed independent theatre companies, present the Canadian premiere of the acclaimed Australian family drama, Things I Know to be True, written by Andrew Bovell and directed by Philip Riccio. See video highlights from the production!

Photos: First Look At The Canadian Premiere Of THINGS I KNOW TO BE TRUE By Andrew Bov Photo
See photos as David Mirvish and The Company Theatre, one of Toronto's most acclaimed independent theatre companies, present the Canadian premiere of the acclaimed Australian family drama, Things I Know to be True, written by Andrew Bovell and directed by Philip Riccio.

Rick Miller Returns to Grand Theatre with Explosive Multimedia Show: BOOM X Photo
Following his smash-hit performance of BOOM in 2015, award-winning, multi-talented Rick Miller returns to the Grand Theatre with his highly-anticipated sequel production: BOOM X.  Miller takes on the roles of writer, director, and performer in this international hit show, which utilizes a variety of dynamic, multimedia elements to bring the music, politics, and culture of Generation X to life. 

Principal Dancer Piotr Stanczyk Retires After 25 Years in November 2023 Photo
Hope Muir, Joan and Jerry Lozinski Artistic Director of The National Ballet of Canada, announced that Principal Dancer Piotr Stanczyk will retire after 25 years with The National Ballet of Canada in November of 2023. Stanczyk will dance in the company’s upcoming Winter and Summer Seasons and his farewell performances will take place in the Fall Season during the 2023/24 season.  


From This Author - Michael Rabice

Michael Rabice has over  40 years of experience attending plays, musicals and opera all over the world. He is a frequent performer in opera and has appeared with the Glimmerglass Opera, A... (read more about this author)


Review: THE MAI at Irish Classical TheatreReview: THE MAI at Irish Classical Theatre
January 27, 2023

A modern day memory play  of sorts with influences of Greek mythology may be one way to describe THE MAI,  now playing at Irish Classical Theatre. Never a company to shy away from complex topics, the drama that is unfolding challenges the viewer in a myriad of ways.

Review: COME FROM AWAY at Shea's Buffalo TheatreReview: COME FROM AWAY at Shea's Buffalo Theatre
December 14, 2022

The best uplifting evening of theatrical magic is happening again just in time for the Christmas season. And no, it's not the annual Christmas Pageant at your family church. It is the remarkable true story of goodness that came out of the unthinkable tragedy of 9/11. COME FROM AWAY has returned to the Shea's Buffalo stage and it continues to enthrall audiences.

Review: ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 at SHEA'S 710 THEATREReview: ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 at SHEA'S 710 THEATRE
December 8, 2022

If ever there were to be a hope of peace, it couldn't be found any closer than the trenches of the battles fought in World War I. And a rare and hard to believe story of a single night of peace is what makes up the beguiling musical play ALL IS CALM: THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE OF 1914 now on stage at Shea's 710 Theatre.

Review: CHARLES DICKENS' GREAT EXPECTATIONS at Irish Classical TheatreReview: CHARLES DICKENS' GREAT EXPECTATIONS at Irish Classical Theatre
December 2, 2022

The holiday season often brings about classic Christmas stories being retold and Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL is usually number one on most producer's short list. Instead, Buffalo's Irish Classical Theatre Company is presenting  Dickens' GREAT EXPECTATIONS in a newer version by Neil Bartlett. And while the brief  Christmas theme is glossed over, the familiar characters still are ripe for this creative theatrical evening.

Review: Holiday Classic WHITE CHRISTMAS Takes the Stage At Shaw FestivalReview: Holiday Classic WHITE CHRISTMAS Takes the Stage At Shaw Festival
November 29, 2022

Christmas traditions may come and go, but watching the film WHITE CHRISTMAS has always been an obligatory part of the holiday season for me. And for the past 20 years or so, audiences can experience Irving Berlin's classic  live on stage. The Shaw Festival is presenting their joyous version this year on the Festival stage and the result is pure technicolor heaven.