Not being a fan of the movie White Christmas, which I know may seem like sacrilege to some people, I found the plot insubstantial and difficult to follow; an inadequate framework for some undeniably brilliant singing and dancing.
It was therefore a thrilling surprise to find that the staged musical version is, in a word, delightful. Or at least, it’s delightful when it’s done as well as it was at Connecticut Theatre Company.
White Christmas follows the adventures of soldiers-turned-performers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis as they seek fortune, fame, and love. Velvet-voiced Peter Bailey delivers chill-inducing vocals as Wallace, and Stephen Michelsson’s Davis is the definition of winsome. The two hit a great stride as a comedic duo when they run into sister act Judy and Betty Haynes, portrayed by the vivacious Kristen Norris and newcomer to CTC Sarah Skrip. Despite conflicting travel plans, skirt-chasing Phil and bubbly Judy find love on the dance floor in “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” which is arguably true in this case—Norris and Michelsson nail their choreography. Bob and Betty don’t hit it off at first and almost immediately begin bickering, but Bailey and Skrip certainly do mesh well together when they hit crystal clear harmonies throughout the show. Undeterred by their skeptical counterparts, Judy and Phil hatch a plan to lure them all onto the same train headed north.
Their plans hit an unfortunate snag when the foursome arrive in Vermont to find themselves facing a heat wave and a hotel devoid of guests—which means no audience for their act. Erin Campbell delivers a strong performance as raucous hotel manager and aspiring singer Martha Watson, who offers the group any room in the house. Davis and Wallace are also surprised to find that their former commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (tenderly portrayed by theater veteran Jim Ryan) owns the failing hotel. Martha confides that the General is in over his head financially, and Wallace and Davis devise a letter-writing scheme to bring in their former ranks as guests and sell out the show, saving their old friend from financial ruin.
Adorable and dazzlingly talented Remy McCoy is worth more than the $25 price of admission. She plays Susan Waverly, the General’s granddaughter who is visiting from California. Wise beyond her years, Susan (not Susie!) worries that her grandfather is unhappy and prays that God will help him. This young lady is already going places—her cast bio states that she performs in New York—and it shows. When she finally has her big solo moment in act two (“Let Me Sing and I’m Happy Reprise”), my ears and my heart were equally happy.
With big production numbers like “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano,” it’s necessary to have a strong ensemble, and this supporting cast does not disappoint. Extra credit goes to the choreographer, Renee Sutherland, who doubles as ditzy chorus member Rhoda. Not only are her dance numbers expertly arranged, but her stage presence draws your attention. Also of note is music director Nathaniel Baker, who plays old friend and agent Ralph Sheldrake, for bringing out the cast’s strengths and making sure each voice was beautifully blended, as well as taking a rare turn delivering a few of those harmony lines himself.
With an amazing opening night like this, I can only imagine how incredible this show will continue to be. I came in as a skeptical theater denizen supporting hometown talent, and I walked out wishing that the show could go on and on. Who needs to beat the crowds and spend hundreds of dollars traveling to New York when you can see a Christmas spectacular like this one right around the corner? CTC has certain odds stacked against them, being strangely located on a side street with a challenging parking situation, and using backing tracks instead of a live band due to financial and spatial limitations. With that said, my advice would be to leave your house early and secure your parking so that you can settle in with your freshly popped popcorn and enjoy the show, and bring all of your friends so that the theater brings in enough revenue to support a full orchestra.
White Christmas runs December 5, 11, 18, and 19 at 7:00 p.m., and December 13 and 20 at 2:00 p.m. Connecticut Theatre Company is located at The Repertory Theatre, 23 Norden Street, New Britain, CT. Call (860) 223-3147 or visit www.ConnecticutTheatreCompany.org for more information.