CENTERVILLE — White Christmas at CenterPoint Legacy Theatre mixes beauty and disappointment. On the one hand, the lovely decorative set captures the mood of the season, and it was wonderful to hear Irving Berlin‘s familiar music and enjoy the holiday season with this classic. On the other hand, the acting, directing, and other designs varied between great and mediocre throughout the night. Yet, I was glad we got to see the show.
White Christmas is the stage adaptation (written by David Ives and Paul Blake) of the popular 1954 movie by the same name. The two versions are different enough that it is worth seeing both. Many of the songs in this musical are not in the movie, and the storyline was much clearer in the stage version.
Scenic designer JD Madsen made the stage look fabulous. The set featured a large, beautiful barn with rock sides and a red roof. The lobby of the inn looked so inviting, with the cozy fire and fancy staircase, I wanted to book a stay there. The tree was enormous and gorgeously decorated. I loved the details of the ladies’ bedroom at the inn, with a full wardrobe and a bed the three women could sit on together. The Regency Room was particularly dazzling. The silky tablecloths and sparkling backdrop gave it such an expensive feel. The set certainly transports the audience back in time.
Jim Christian directed this musical, and some moments worked well, like the way he had the ensemble members interact with each other and talk in a playful way. However, other scenes were lacking, and it was disappointing seeing the back and forth between a very well directed scene and a poorly directed one. The first dance number, “Let Yourself Go,” did not look very fun and seemed kind of slow and unvaried for the large cast on stage. And the dressing room scene afterward was choppy, as if the timing of humor was off and the actors did not seem committed to their roles. When they broke into “Love and the Weather,” there could have been some fun actions and stage business, but instead the number fell so flat. One of the reasons for this was probably that the actors were usually facing each other or away from the audience for long periods of time, especially Betty. I was not sure if this was a director’s choice to make it feel more like the audience was watching a movie, but I do not think it worked well for a large proscenium stage.
However, there were such great scenes too, like the train scene with the song, “Snow.” It had all the fun and humor anyone could ask for, especially when the snoring man wakes up and breaks into song. I also loved, “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” which had the three women dancing with under clothes and throwing them. Christian did well with directing Scarlett Burt as Susan Waverly. Her entrances and interactions were so fun to watch, and I only wish I could have seen her face more when she was speaking. Scarlett Burt was amazing in her acting and putting attitude in all her lines. Her singing voice was powerful and well controlled for one so young. I was blown away.
Ezekiel, played by Nathan Burt, was a hilarious character. He filled his role well, and I wish the show could have given him even more direction for the last half, because it seems like after he danced with the mop, he just became a bystander the rest of the show. Danna Facer played Judy Haynes, thoroughly fulfilling the role of a 1950’s singer and dancer. She even had the right face for it, the blonde hair framing it so well. Moreover, she is an elegant and talented dancer, which is why I was sad she did not have a better dance partner in Craig Williams (who played Phil Davis). Williams mentions in his bio that he does not like dancing, and it shows on stage. But he was hilarious in his role, and nailed all the comedic lines. I do wish he had seemed more of a ladies man though because his demeanor just made him seem too clownish to get the ladies after him.
Justin Lee, who played Bob Wallace, was a great singer, but a poor actor. Most of his lines sounded like he was reading them, and his delivery lacked any convincing emotion. He was still able to make the show work, as he would deliver a more engaging performance whenever he was singing, and that made it fun and easier to watch him. In the role of Betty Haynes, Bailee DeYoung was a fine actress and singer, but I was very bothered by the blocking she was given. It seemed like I got all of her face for long periods of time, or the back of her head for long periods of time. Still, I enjoyed the way she performed her musical number “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” as she was able to keep the powerful mood so subtly without much movement or change in emotion.
Laurie Oswald was the costume designer, and (like much of the production), her work was uneven. I enjoyed some of the costumes greatly, like the elegant costumes for the Regency Room, and most of Judy’s costumes. The ensemble costumes were just okay. They conformed more to the dress standards of pious religion than the showy show girls of the 1950s. The enormous and too-long shorts for the number “Blue Skies” were out of place for the era. And the final getup for Judy and Betty looked like cheap Halloween costumes.
Choreography by Jessica Merrill was amazing for “I Love A Piano.” I wanted to give the dancers a standing ovation afterward, especially for Craig Williams. The tap moves were skilled, and I could hear every tap in sync to the music. I see a lot of unprofessional level tap numbers in Utah, and this one was the most well rehearsed and organized one yet. It was proof that a tap number can be done well with non-professional performers. The waves were all really nice in the large ensemble dances, and “Blue Skies” had a lot of jazzy choreography that was fun to watch.
White Christmas is an iconic show to see for the holidays. I laughed and had a good time watching it overall. Though it was sometimes disappointing to see artistic missteps in the directing and designs and some wasted talent, the show was still enjoyable. It is hard to go wrong with White Christmas.