OGDEN — Tucked away amongst a strip of stores on Washington Blvd in South Ogden is a seemingly incongruous addition to the neighborhood. The storefront is inviting, with bright lights and a welcoming ambiance, and a marquee that proudly proclaims that this is home of the newest member of the local theatre community, the Ziegfeld Theater. Last Saturday night I made my first visit to “the Zig,” as they call themselves, and was not disappointed in their holiday offering, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, the Musical.
Those familiar with the classic movie of the same title starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen will have no trouble following the plot. Performing partners Bob Wallace and Phil Davis hook up with a sister act, Betty and Judy Haynes, and make their way to Vermont for the holidays, first in an attempt to get Bob and Betty to fall in love, and later to help out Wallace and Davis’ old commanding officer from World War II who runs an inn that has fallen on hard times. In this stage production, helmed by Emilie Starr in her directorial debut, the cast featured many names that will be familiar to local community theatre audiences, including many who hail from the Weber State Theatre program.
The company was led by Trevor Dean as Bob Wallace and Aleczander Ammon as Phil Davis; Betty and Judy Haynes were played by Rachel Shull and Erica Choffel respectively. All four actors are products of Weber State. In reading the cast biographies in the playbill, the university was mentioned so frequently that the entire production had a slight feel of, “Hey gang! My college buddies opened this theater down the road, let’s go and help them put on a musical!” But the company had a goodhearted camaraderie and solidarity that comes when a group of people are united in a cause and working their tails off for something they believe in.
Dean and Shull didn’t have very intense connection onstage. Sparks should fly, first from attraction and then anger, right from the beginning. Alas, there wasn’t much of either between them. But both performers have beautiful voices and led the cast in some lovely classic songs from the Irving Berlin catalogue. Music director David Knowles put together a lush sounding cast that lends itself well to these old favorites including “Snow,” “Blue Skies,” “The Best Things Happen While We’re Dancing,” and “Sisters.” Rachel Shull’s vocals were especially poignant in “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” and Trevor Dean lived up nicely to the Crosby standard “White Christmas.” While he’s not quite the charismatic crooner old Bing was, Dean does a nice job and the audience didn’t take much urging to sing along. The warm fuzzies were in abundance.
The choreography by Joshua Robinson was engaging and appealing. The ensemble was hardworking and committed, and looked as if they were having fun. “Let Yourself Go” and “I Love a Piano” were fun big chorus numbers, and it was nice to see some tap dancing again on stage in this show. “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” should have been a show stopper, and had some fun elements, but was just too long for Phil and Judy (Ammon and Choffel) to pull off on their own. That number and one or two others would have benefitted from some judicious editing of the score.
The number called “Blue Skies” was the most entertaining, primarily because of the subplot literally running through it: Martha, who runs the front desk at the inn, (played by Susan Wilhelm) has been hiding the overdue bill notices from General Waverly (Raymond Rounds), but he has finally figured out the deception. He chases her all over the stage as she ducks behind dancers and props and even the General’s granddaughter Susan (Ella Spurlock), giving the already uptight stage manager Mike (Colton Ward) a fit of apoplexy. I must admit that I watched the antics of Martha and the General more than the actual choreography during the song. The number (and the act) ends in a shower of bills flying in the air as the General finally catches up to her and demands an explanation. Martha has the funniest lines and asides in the show, and Wilhelm does a nice job delivering them. She certainly got the most laughs.
The costume design by Joshua Robinson and set design by Caleb Parry reflected some of the struggles of a new theatre company getting on its feet, without a lot in stock from past shows or money in the budget. Costumes were a bit hodgepodge and sets were minimal, but mostly served the plot. The standard white button-down shirt and black pants made many appearances in various costume incarnations, alternated at times with sweaters or scarves. For the most part the costume styles weren’t too distracting, although the costumes were sometimes a bit monotonous. The exception was the unfortunate and unflattering decision to have every woman in the ensemble tie their shirttails up at one point and appear with bared midriffs. Not a becoming choice for most women, even with a body stocking.
All in all, the Ziegfeld Theater’s White Christmas is an entertaining, enjoyable opportunity to experience an old Christmas staple in a new setting, to sing along, to enjoy fun dancing and to support a young local theatre group. Besides, it’s not A Christmas Carol, so that’s already one point in its favor.