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.

By: Nov. 29, 2022
Review: Holiday Classic WHITE CHRISTMAS Takes the Stage At Shaw Festival
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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 for more information.


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