Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Directed by Robb Paterson
Musical direction by Don Horsburgh
Choreographed by Emily Morgan
Performed by Stephen Patterson, Kyle Blair, Jennifer Lyon, Kimberley Rampersad et al
Manitoba Theatre Centre, Winnipeg
November 25 to December 18, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Disclaimer: The reviewer’s son Thomas Alderson is part of this cast
It’s a Million Dollar Proposition…
It’s an extravaganza in the genre of the big movie musical on which the stage show is based: The Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre has re-created White Christmas in the style to which those who love the old movie are accustomed.
The live stage plot is true to the movie; if anything, 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 in those beautiful turquoise dresses with the matching ostrich-feather fans. Judy and Phil conspire to get Bob and Betty together, their plot involves getting Wallace and Davis on the train to Vermont, rather than Florida. In Vermont, they learn that their much-respected army general, Henry Waverley 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 have a disagreement and Phil and Judy become engaged. But all comes to a happy ending, including the much-coveted snowfall.
No expense has been spared when it comes to set and costumes – snow not only falls on the stage but over the audience as well. There are numerous costume changes, all with lots of colour and glitz. To complete the package, a top-notch cast of triple threats has been assembled.
Stephen Patterson reprises the Bob Wallace role he presented last year at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton. He rendition of White Christmas and other familiar tunes is excellent. He also plays the straight man perfectly, when needed.
Kyle Blair is a delightful flirt as Phil Davis, and his comedic timing is excellent. He has great fun with Rhoda (Lindsay Kramer) and Rita (Stephanie Sam Manchulenko), both of whom provide many of the show’s laughs.
Jennifer Lyon handles Rosemary Clooney’s vocals expertly. She makes the character likeable, even when she’s feuding with Bob. Her duet with Patterson “Count your Blessings instead of Sheep” is beautiful, and her performance of “Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me” is truly moving.
Kimberley Rampersad as Judy is an amazing dancer, showing her talent in the “I love a Piano” number. Jan Skene plays the busybody Martha, commanding the stage in her solo “Let me Sing and I’m Happy” where she’s a cross between Ethel Merman and Judy Garland.
Stan Lesk is hilarious as Ezekiel, and also garners the laughs as Mr. Snoring Man on the train. The train scene is great fun as the entire ensemble sings “Snow”, much to Betty and Bob’s annoyance.
Big dance numbers keep the show lively – You know you’re in for a treat early in act one with “Let Yourself Go”, in a recreation of the old Ed Sullivan show. “Blue Skies” is a delight for the eyes with everyone in white suits and white fedoras. “I Love a Piano” is a dynamic and energetic tap dance number, which even garners spontaneous applause for its intricacy.
But everyone’s favourite has to be the encore: The dance troupe returns to the stage all dressed in red and skate-slash-tap dance across a frozen pond, to “I’ve got my Love to Keep me Warm”. With snow falling over the dancers and the audience, the spirit of Christmas spreads through the house.
Director Robb Paterson deserves credit for putting together this top-notch package. Choreographer Emily Morgan has deftly recreated the Broadway dance numbers, and Musical Director Don Horsburgh and his 12 piece orchestra keeps the old Irving Berlin tunes lively. This version of White Christmas is equal to, if not better than something you might see on New York’s Great White Way.
As the character Sheldrake (Gordon Tanner), who books Ed Sullivan’s acts, says, “It’s a million dollar proposition.” And yes, this production of White Christmas looks like a million bucks!
White Christmas continues at the Manitoba Theatre Centre until December 18. Tickets are available at (204) 942-6537 or 1 (877) 446-4500 or visit www.mtc.mb.ca