White Christmas – 2022

High Energy Dance, Heartfelt Singing, and Sweet Romance

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

If you’re a fan of sappy Christmas movies on TV – you know the kind – couple meets, falls in love, has a silly fight, breaks up, then makes up – you better book your tickets for White Christmas right now. The live show on stage at the Shaw Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake is better than any made-for-TV movie. Where else can you find a sappy story together with amazing singing and lively dancing?

Based on the 1954 movie, the stage version of White Christmas was first produced in 2000. The live stage plot is true to the movie; in fact, the plot is improved with a more plausible reason for the romantic mix-up. Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are entertaining their fellow soldiers at the end of World War II. Jump ahead 10 years and the pair have a popular act on the Ed Sullivan Show. They meet up with the Haynes sisters, Judy and Betty, who are performing with the famous ostrich-feather fans. Judy and Phil conspire to get Bob and Betty together. Their scheme involves getting Wallace and Davis on the train to Vermont where the Haynes Sisters are performing, rather than Florida. In Vermont, they learn that their much-respected army general, Henry Waverly, is on the brink of losing his ski-lodge business due to the lack of snow. They decide to do a Christmas show at the lodge, urging all their army buddies to come, bringing in business for the resort. Along the way, Bob and Betty fight over a huge misunderstanding, and Phil and Judy become engaged. But all comes to a happy ending, including the much-coveted snowfall.

Jeff Irving, a long-time Shaw favourite, is Bob Wallace. He charms the audience singing “When I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep” to sleepy little Susie. He is playing the Bing Crosby character, and offers a beautiful rendition of the title song, “White Christmas”. He also leads the ensemble in a jazzy “Blue Skies”. Irving has the smooth voice and charisma perfect for the role.

Alexis Gordon is Betty Haynes (the Rosemary Clooney character) and breaks our hearts with “Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me”. Gordon has a rich, pitch-perfect voice and her singing seems effortless.  

Kevin MacLachlan is Phil Davis (the Danny Kaye character) who dances flawlessly with Mary Antonini who plays Judy Haynes (the Vera-Ellen character). The two of them glide beautifully through “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”, and they excel with outstanding fast footwork in “I Love a Piano” at the top of Act II. The audience responded on opening night with long and loud applause.

The delightful Jenni Burke is Martha, the busybody who listens in on phone calls at the switchboard or steams opens envelopes in search of gossip in the mail. Burke is an audience favourite in the role. She performs “Let me Sing and I’m Happy” in her own inimitable style, and it’s truly uplifting. She also garners the biggest laugh in the show, when she says to General Waverly: “We fight all the time, we never have sex. People think we’re married”.

David Alan Anderson has just the right balance of tough military guy and heartwarming softie, as General Waverly. His relationships with Martha and granddaughter Susie delight the audience.

The Shaw Festival has compiled an excellent cast of the key characters, and delightful ensemble of outstanding singers and dancers.

If there is any disappointment in this show, it could be the costumes. The clothing seems to deliberately veer away from what we’ve come to expect in White Christmas: the gowns and ostrich feather fans are pink instead of the bright turquoise we remember from the movie. The finale has the cast in rather dull street clothes instead of brilliant red velvet gowns trimmed in glorious white fur or smart suits and red bow ties.

But, as the character Sheldrake (played on opening night by Jordan Mah, usually played by Kelly Wong), who books Ed Sullivan’s acts, says, “It’s a million dollar proposition.” And yes, this production of White Christmas is worth a million bucks, with its high energy dance, heartfelt singing and sweet romance. Give yourself an early Christmas present and get your tickets now for the best made-for-TV Christmas movie that’s live on stage.

White Christmas continues at The Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake until December 23. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-SHAW(7429).

Photo: Kevin McLachlan as Phil Davis, Jeff Irving as Bob Wallace and Kelly Wong as Ralph Sheldrake in Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Alexis Gordon as Betty Haynes and Mary Antonini as Judy Haynes. Photos by David Cooper.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Directed by Kate Hennig
Assistant Director Thomas Alderson
Musical Direction by Paul Sportelli
Choreographed by Allison Plamondon
Performed by Jeff Irving, Kevin McLachlan, Alexis Gordon, Mary Antonini, Jenni Burke, David Alan Anderson, and David Adams, Matt Alfano, Matthew Armet, Catherine Dubois, Kristi Frank, Elodie Gillett, Kyle Golemba, Alexandra Gratton, Julia Juhas, Taran Kim, Graeme Kitawaga, Caitlyn MacInnis, Payton mills, Madelyn Mitashita, Drew Plummer, Adam Sergison, Olivia Sinclair-Brisbane, Kelly Wong, Alexander Batycki, Celeste Catena, Nicholas Chunha, Jordan Mah, Allison McCaughey, Ali Powell.
Shaw Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake
November 18 to December 23, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Full Disclosure: the reviewer’s son is Assistant Director of this production.

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