Review: BTG’s White Christmas, Why Cheesy Equals Charming
OnStage Washington State Critic
On Saturday, December 3rd, I had the pleasure of seeing Bellingham Theatre Guild’s Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. I will admit, I’m a virgin to this show, I have not even seen the movie with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney! This review probably seems late but I went about a month without Wi-Fi so better late than never…
However, seeing as this year has been a popular year for this show, I figured this was a great time to see it. Other places I’m connected to (some of which is in a “Six Degrees to Kevin Bacon” kind of way) in Washington are putting on the show, including Manestage in Sumner that features one or more of my former cohorts from my high school drama club.
The thing that stood out for me was the use of different age groups on stage. Having older people (40+, as opposed to keeping it just 30s and under) felt extremely appropriate and much more believable. As amusing and/or impressive it is to watch somebody portray a character much older than themselves, it stills adds to the production when somebody the right age does it. It feels more real.
An example of this is Bonnie Hollingsworth as Martha Watson. Since she is actually born closer to the time period this takes place, than say a 20-year-old, and actually had parents that lived during that time, she would probably be more adept to the patter actors would speak in. She was truly remarkable in this production; her speech patterns reflected actual actresses I have been able to watch in film and television. The speech patterns she was able to portray were perfect for making corny dialogue funny and endearing.
Actually, Hollingsworth’s voice reminded me a bit of Vivian Vance from I Love Lucy. When it came to singing she sounded very powerful at times and loud. Loud equals good in theatre but especially in this case considering Martha Watson was told by Ethel Merman: “Honey, you’re loud!”
Another actress that stood out in this show was Emily Cupp who played Betty. She is beautiful, witty, talented¬¬, and also happened to go to the same high school as my roommate. Her looks certainly did fulfill the visual appeal in the character. Beyond her looks you can sense that she is an intelligent young woman and it comes out in her delivery of Betty’s sharp wit. She is definitely a theatre actress that falls within the category of those who use many similar and broad hand-gestures on stage, which can get a bit annoying at times but considering the type of show this was it felt completely alright. Her singing voice was beautiful and only made it even more shocking that she just came off of a four year break from theatre.
The sets, which I’m not sure others noticed in the same way I did, were very much understated. They filled the stage yet were not too extravagant, now I highly doubt this was because they could not afford it. This was a conscious decision, which is made obvious by the fact that the nicest set was the lobby of the inn, which was quite lovely with furniture and false stairs. After that set though, the barn set was big yet quite minimalist. It was represented by the backdrop and the empty floor space was the inside of the barn. The professional show that they are putting on is in a barn, so it feels perfect to present this show in the same fashion: glitzy but cozy at the same time. It reminds me of musicals in the 40s and 50s I have seen where they throw a show in an abandoned barn and it has the perfect acoustics of a movie studio (because it is a movie studio).
Overall, I felt very pleased with my first time watching this show. It is incredibly clichéd with cheese but that makes it all the more charming for me. These kinds of shows are meant to make you happy and honestly I feel the cozy “happily ever after” feel of it does just that.
Especially since it has a wonderful sneaky humor that packs true cleverness into certain lines that would have been virtually under-utilized if it had been a show that that was focused on being provocative. The loveliness of certain shows is that they don’t try too hard to be something, they just unashamedly are what they are. Thanks to Bellingham Theatre Guild I look forward to seeing other productions of this show. I also look forward to seeing and possibly participating in more of their productions.
Photo: (L-R) Robin Mae Becar, Alec Warn, Sage Hoag, and Emily Cupp