IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMASBook by David Ives & Paul Blake. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Family Music Theatre
Directed by Dr. Sam Germany & Camille Russo
Choreographer – Stacia Woodlan
Dance Captain – Dauri Poole
Technical Director – Dee Longino
Set Construction Coordinator – Joel Keys
Stage Managers – David Johns & Cody Slusher
Costume Designers – Esther Keys & Rebekah Hendrick
Props Master – David Curry
Sound Engineer – Aaron Anderson
Usher Coordinator – Debbi Smelser
Concessions Coordinator – Susan Bishop
Set Construction – Cast & Volunteers
Bob Wallace – Samuel Germany
Phil Davis – Andrew Isenberg
Betty Haynes – Sydney Cornelius
Judy Haynes – Anna Isenberg
Gen. Henry Waverly – Michael Lyons
Martha Watson – Sharon Balthrop
Susan Waverly – Chloe Balthrop
Rita – Alexis Russell
Rhoda – Sara-Joe McMeans
Ralph Sheldrake – Deshawn Thomas
Ezekiel Foster – Ethan Gebauer
Mike – David Johns
Tessie – Kelsey White
Seamstress – Kristia Golightly
Asst. Seamstress – Sarah Choate
Jimmy – Jeff Balthrop
Snoring Man (solo) – Deshawn Thomas
Mrs. Snoring Man (solo) – Bekah Welser
Ed Sullivan Announcer – Ethan Gebauer
Regency Room Announcer – Ethan Thatcher
Sheldrake’s Secretary – Nichole Pruitt
Jeff Balthrop, Rebecca Miller, Sarah Choate, Nichole Pruitt, Abigail Craven, Ethan Thatcher, Ethan Gebauer, Deshawn Thomas, Kristia Golightly, Bekah Welser, Rebekah Hendrick, & Kelsey White.
Ethan Bishop, Dauri Poole, Laurie Hernandez, Jackie Reininga, Heather Howton, Alexis Russell, & Sara-Joe Mcmeans.
Trumpet 1 – Josh Davis
Trumpet 2 – Emma Cook
Trombone 1 – Brenda Roth
Trombone 2 – Andrew Perez
Horn Macey – Macey Lee
Reed 1 – Dennis Ingram
Reed 2 – Jenna Jeane
Reed 3 – Bill Hall
Electric Bass – Keith Smelser
Drums – John Lewis
Keyboard II – Beth Thomas
Keyboard/Conductor – Dr. Sam Germany
Reviewed Performance: 12/3/2022
Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The success of the song “White Christmas” is the main reason for the 1954 movie musical starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, having originally been suggested by Irving Berlin to Paramount Studios in 1948 as a vehicle for Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Originally written for the 1942 musical Holiday Inn featuring Crosby and Astaire (for which it won the Academy Award that year for best original song), Crosby’s recording became a massive success and is still regarded as the top-selling single of all time. The Crosby/Kaye movie became the highest-grossing film of 1954 and earned an Academy Award nomination for “Count Your Blessings” as the best song.
The stage adaptation with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake premiered in St. Louis at The Muny in 2000. It was produced on Broadway from 2008 – 2009 and has toured throughout the United States, Canada, and United Kingdom. The musical uses songs that were written specifically for the movie “White Christmas” (“Sisters,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” and “Snow” for example) and also pulls from Irving Berlin’s extensive catalog of music (“Happy Holiday,” “Let Yourself Go,” “White Christmas,” “I Love a Piano,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and several others. The result is a wonderful trip down memory lane for older audience members and a happy introduction to one of our country’s greatest songwriters for younger theatergoers. There are a few changes to the original material, but it takes nothing away from the movie or stage show. And it is great fun.
The storyline is tried and true. It begins in 1944 in Europe during World War II and a Christmas celebration for the troops is in progress hosted by Ralph Sheldrake (Deshawn Thomas). Performing are former Broadway star and now U.S. Army Captain Bob Wallace (Samuel Germany) and his partner Private Phil Davis (Andrew Isenberg), wishing them a “Happy Holiday” and leading the assembled soldiers in a heartfelt rendition of “White Christmas.” The performance is interrupted by General Henry Waverly (Michael Lyons) who announces that he is being shipped back to The States for medical reasons and wonders aloud what will happen to all of them in ten years.
And voila, we are transported ten years in time when now successful show-biz partners Bob and Phil are making plans for their next Broadway show. They need a sister act to round out the production and go to a club to see the Haynes Sisters, Betty (Sydney Cornelius) and Judy (Anna Isenberg) perform. Phil is immediately smitten with Judy while Betty and Bob mix like oil and water. The sisters are going to Vermont for a gig at a ski resort and Phil, having decided that his partner needs to get together with Betty, tricks Bob into going to the resort. Upon arriving, the couples discover two things. There is an unexpected heat wave, and all the guests at the inn have canceled due to the lack of snow, and the ski resort is owned by former General Henry Waverly, who longs to be back in the Army, and is on the brink of bankruptcy. Bob and Phil decide to move their Broadway show to the barn on the grounds of the resort and invite the entire squadron from the war to show up at the hotel to help out “The Old Man” General Waverly and save the day. Add romantic complications, a nosy clerk and ex-vaudevillian Martha ‘the megaphone’ Watson (Sharon Balthrop), a precocious little girl named Susan (Chloe Balthrop), and various actors and dancers, and we’re off.
The setting is simple yet effective. On the back wall is a huge Christmas tree. In front of that is the orchestra across the back, led by conductor and co-director, Dr. Sam Germany. The vocal ensemble is in front of the band leaving ample room at the front of the stage. While this is bare bones in terms of set pieces, there are enough well-done singing and dancing production numbers to please even the most hard-core musical connoisseur. The choreography by Stacia Woodlan covers the gamut, from ballroom elegance (as in the wonderful “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing”), to the moody contemporary solo movement (“Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me”), and on to full-out tap numbers (“Let Yourself Go” and “I Love a Piano”). Co-directors Dr. Sam Germany and Camille Russo keep the proceeding going at a quick pace and have allowed their cast to shine to the fullest. Costume designers Esther Keys and Rebekah Hendrick have provided the proper period and have artfully used simple pieces to effect costume changes (I do wish to extend credit for the lovely gown for the character Betty’s debut at ‘The Regency Room.’).
The cast seemed to be having so much fun performing this work. Samuel Germany is so comfortable playing the character of Bob Wallace, he radiates warmth and charm, and his singing is sincere and engaging. As Bob’s partner, Andrew Isenberg embodies Phil’s wiliness (without coming across as self-centered) and his talent. Two numbers in particular, “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” and “I Love a Piano,” show off Mr. Isenberg’s skill as a singer and dancer. When working together, Mr. Germany and Mr. Isenberg have the ease and comradery that a veteran performance duo would have, with hand gestures and head nods giving wordless encouragement to each other as they perform. They make for a very appealing team.
Sydney Cornelius and Anna Isenberg give us the Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy, and are more than a match for Bob and Phil in the charisma department. Together they do a great job of winning us over in the number “Sisters.” But each actress is strong in her own right. Ms. Cornelius has a lovely singing voice (given several chances to shine, especially in “Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” and the reprise of “How Deep is the Ocean”), and her feelings for Bob seem genuine and deep. Ms. Isenberg’s Judy is bubbly and fun. Aside from the number “Sisters,” some of her memorable moments are with the character of Phil, played by Andrew Isenberg (Isenberg? Do you think married, maybe?). Her singing is excellent and her dancing elegant.
Michael Lyons is appropriately gruff as General Henry Waverly. The busybody Martha Watson is ably played by Sharon Balthrop, possessing an Ethel Merman-like voice that takes us by surprise when it emerges. Chloe Balthrop gives us the bookish Susan who becomes drawn to the world of show business and erupts into a brassy and memorable reprise of the song “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” Ethan Gebauer is appropriately laconic as the Vermonter Ezekiel Foster who turns ‘Ah-yup’ into its production number. The character of Ralph Sheldrake is given the appropriate amount of show biz pizzazz by Deshawn Thomas. Also, Kudos to everyone in the vocal and dance ensembles. Thank you for your work and dedication.
So, if you’re worried, and you can’t sleep, you could count your blessings instead of sheep. And one blessing you can add to your list is Family Music Theatre’s lovely production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” Please check it out. “…and may all your Christmases be white.”
Family Music Theatre
Through December 10, 2022
Friday – Saturday – 7:30 PM, Saturday – 1:30 PM
General Admission - $20.00. Senior & Children (5-12) - $15.00.
New Vida Center, 3727 West Kiest Blvd, Dallas, TX 75233
For tickets and more information visit the Web at www.familymusictheatre.com