Nancy Sasso Janis
The title alone of ‘Irving Berlin’s White Christmas’ is enough to put one in the holiday spirit and the kick-off of the National Tour at Waterbury’s Palace Theater was both merry and bright for their opening night on Friday. There may have been record-breaking warmth (for early November) outside of the theater, but it didn’t dampen the flurry of fun inside the Palace with this holiday event of the season.
Work Light Productions brings this beautiful production to the stage and the students at the nearby Waterbury Arts Magnet School were allowed to attend the final dress rehearsal on Friday morning. The musical is based upon the Paramount Pictures film of the same name and features all the fabulous and familiar music written by Irving Berlin.The show tells the story of a song-and-dance teams putting on a show in a Vermont inn and falling for a lovely sister act in the process. It is an old-fashioned, heartwarming story with a patriotic theme that is hard not to like.
Everyone knows the title song, but there is also a flurry of other wonderful pieces that are joyously brought to life in both splashy production numbers and quiet duets. “Sisters,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and the haunting “How Deep is the Ocean” are beautifully done, but “Blue Skies” and the Act II opener “I Love a Piano” are show stoppers. From the first note of the overture, the orchestra made up of local professional musicians sounded amazing under the direction of Michael Horsley. I recognized Leo Lavallee on trumpet and Joseph Jacovino on keyboard in the pit.
Sean Montgomery (Broadway’s ‘Matilda’) played Bob Wallace and his tenor voice could not have been more effective. Kerry Conte (National Tour of ‘Mary Poppins’) was his perfect match as Betty Haynes. I remembered Jeremy Benton as Fred Astaire in Westchester Broadway Theatre’s ‘Backwards in High Heels: The Ginger Musical; here he brings his amazing dance skills to the role of Wallace’s partner Phil Davis. Kelly Sheehan has been part of the White Christmas family for ten years and was quite adorable in the role of the cheerful Judy Haynes.
Pamela Myers (‘Company’ and ‘Into the Woods’ on Broadway) brought her Ethel Merman belt to the comic role of Martha Watson. I loved watching Conrad John Schuck on TV’s ‘McMillan and Wife’ and it was a treat to see him in the role of the staunch General Waverly. Mr. Schuck also appeared in ‘Annie,’ ‘Annie Get Your Gun,’ and ‘Nice Work if You Can Get It’ on Broadway, as well as Star Trek films.
Cliff Bemis was very cute as Ezekiel and the Snoring Man on the train during “Snow,” and he originated the role on Broadway. Elizabeth Crawford (in her second year with IBWC) shares the role of Susan Waverly with Samantha Penny.
David Perlman who was so good as Motel in Goodspeed’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ played Ralph Sheldrake and Ravi Roth covered several speaking roles. Shout outs to Rachel Coloff as Mrs. Snoring Man on the train, Darien Crago (Ginger Rogers in ‘Backwards’) and Megan Kelly who was Peggy Sawyer in ‘42nd Street’ at Musicals at Richter.
Every member of the ensemble is a talented dancer and singer and Kristyn Pope (she'll be the one in the cat-eye glasses) served as the dance captain. Randy Skinner did an outstanding job with both the direction and the shining choreography. Local choreographer Jennifer Clarke was in the audience and was just as impressed with the tap numbers as I was.
The costumes were smartly designed by Carrie Robbins and while set changes required a lot of actors performing “in one” in front of the main curtain, the magnificent sets designed by Anna Louizos were worth the wait. There were some minor sound issues that didn’t detract too much.
You will be invited to sing along at the end to the title song, but you should remember to watch your diction as well as the members of the cast do. Remaining performances at the Palace Theater are Nov. 7 at 2:00pm and 8:00pm and Nov. 8 at 1:00pm and 6:30pm and tickets are available at the box office.
Photos courtesy of the Palace Theater