OGDEN — In bringing the White Christmas musical adaptation to the stage, director Morgan Parry captures the Christmas nostalgia of the film, but with some live theatrical appeal and community at the Ziegfeld Theater.
White Christmas takes music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and combines them with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake to create a slightly different show, compared to the 1954 of the same name. Those familiar with the film will recognize army veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis who a decade after World War II became successful song-and-dance men. In pursuit of romance, Bob and Phil follow two sisters, Betty and Judy, to an inn in Vermont, where they are surprised to meet their former commander General Waverly running the inn. The inn is struggling due to unseasonably high winter temperatures, and so the men decide to bring their show to save the financial future of the inn at Christmastime. Bob and Betty have a romance in question over a miscommunication, and Phil and Judy have a dedication to flirting that may just blossom into commitment.
The standout scenic design is the Ziegfeld Theater’s projection system, which is rich, beautiful, and elegantly simple. Caleb Parry is the projection designer and aptly depicts so many different locations, from the opening scene’s World War II setting to the closing set in a Vermont inn. Many of the projections are detailed enough to feel effective without being distracting to the performers or physical set pieces. This projection system works especially well to reveal the white Christmas snow of the finale outside the barn. This finale proves worthy of all the uplifting hopes and dreams of the Christmas season that prove the endurance of this classic Christmas musical on the theatrical stage — especially when accompanied by a sing-along of the title number.
The production has many song and dance numbers, some of which propel the story forward and others are part of the “show-within-the-show” numbers being staged by the fictional company. In some ways, White Christmas has a cabaret feel with various musical numbers. These numbers are dense with dance, and I commend the efforts of the performers to handle the variety, length, and number of choreographed dance sequences. Choreographer Keely Perry does well to balance the skill level and experience of the community ensemble with the need for variety across the numbers of the show. The dance numbers felt well suited to the performance and “Blue Skies” was a highlight.
The costumes designed by Stephanie Colyar helped the “show-within-the-show” conceit of the production. There are many costumes worn not just by the principal characters, but by the ensemble as well. This includes rehearsal costumes and costumes for the dance numbers. The sheer variety and beauty of the costumes richly define this musical theatre world of the 1950s. The colors of the dresses are well suited to the brightness of the Christmas and holiday season aiding the holiday ambiance and energy of the production.
David Knowles as Bob Wallace and Cameron Ropp as Phil Davis are a decent duo act. Knowles and Ropp perform well together, but there is nothing spectacular about their energy together on stage. Knowles as Bob had better chemistry interactions with Samantha Wursten as Betty. This may be that Bob and Betty’s relationship has time to develop through the production, whereas Bob and Phil must have an established, long-term friendship. Overall, Knowles seemed to ease into the performance as the show developed. Ropp was uneven in the humor of the character throughout, and the comedy did not always land as well. Ropp’s romantic counterpart, Judy (played by Karaline Taylor) was the better half in stage presence. Taylor projected confidence in the portrayal of Judy and a distinct command of the stage in the scenes. It was easy to believe that Taylor’s Judy would woo Phil Davis away from chorus-girl chasing ways.
In musical performances, Wursten was a highlight in the solo number “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” In a smart staging choice, only Wursten and Knowles share the stage as they sing with Knowles singing the counterpoint “How Deep is the Ocean?” With so many musical dance numbers, allowing Wursten and Knowles’s voices and performances to lead this moment in a solo/duet was a nice contrast. Wursten does great vocal and emotional work in this performance that segues well to the next beat in the Betty/Bob relationship. Even as much as the miscommunication drags on in the script, Wursten and Knowles work well to show how such characters might resolve and move forward past such conflict.
One of the greatest variations in this stage adaptation is the character of Martha, the front desk manager who is now a former musical sensation rediscovered in Vermont. Played by Megan Hardy, Martha is a delightful, humorous presence in this production. Hardy has a solid voice and could easily become the star of the fictional Wallace and Davis show. Hardy, unfortunately, does not get enough opportunities to sing in the production, but Hardy’s performance of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” proves that Martha is still a fitting star of the stage.
The standout ensemble performance was the increasingly harried and anxious appearances of Mike the stage manager, played in this cast by Garrett Rushforth. Rushforth perfectly captured the realistic anxieties of a stage manager who asked to change the holiday plans of a large-scale production to a Vermont inn — specifically a barn, of all places. His increased disheveled appearance only added to the humor of the character. Rushforth’s performance speaks to many a stage manager working for such creative whims of performers.
The strength of the Ziegfeld Theater’s White Christmas is the vocal and musical performances, as well as the projected scenic design. The humor in the script was the greatest disappointment. But, the added characters and performances of Martha and the stage manager Mike are delightful in this theatrical adaptation and provide the most theatricality in this adaptation to the stage. Overall, White Christmas at the Ziegfeld is some nice holiday ambiance and is a faithful nostalgic Christmastime production. There are production highlights that fans of the film and their families will enjoy, and the effort of the cast and production is evident throughout.