Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
December 21, 2012
You might not have thought it possible, but there is a way to have a snowy holiday season in San Diego. You can see a live production of “White Christmas.”
It’s all there – the romance, the great songs, the fabulous dancing, the big chorus numbers, even the Big Band. San Diego Musical Theatre has pulled out all the stops, with 30 high-kicking, high-spirited performers and 21 marvelous musicians onstage.
Based on the beloved 1954 film, the stage show premiered in San Francisco in 2004, and appeared briefly on Broadway in 2008, and again the next year, in advance of a national tour. It’s familiar, it’s nostalgic and it’s tons of fun.
Besides the wonderful title tune, there are other Berlin classics – 17 in all, a lot more than the movie had – including “How Deep is the Ocean”, “I Love a Piano” and “Blue Skies,” which is the knockout first-act ender.
The musical follows pretty much the same storyline as the film, with a little more beefing up of the characters and their motivations. The singing guy and gal duos have amusing parallels; each pair has one romantic and one who’s gun-shy and cynical, relationally. They all meet-cute, and the two hoofers secretly arrange for the famous men to follow their female counterparts to a little inn in Vermont, instead of their scheduled rehearsal in Florida. The two duped cohorts are annoyed, of course, but they ultimately merge, and make beautiful music together.
The Second World War is the backstory. The guys, Wallace and Davis, were under the command of General Henry Waverly, who just happens to own the New England retreat, which is struggling financially while he struggles to find his post-combat place professionally and emotionally. Wallace arranges to gather their whole company to pay tribute to the General, which helps him adjust and move on. It’s all Christmas card cuddly; touching, warm and bright.
Under the direction of Todd Nielsen and the expert choreography of Lisa Hopkins, the ensemble is energetic and ebullient. The excellent principals include mellow-voiced David Engel, one of the original Plaids in the Bing Crosby role and vocally superb Laura Dickinson as the high-powered singer of the “Sisters,” the part played by Rosemary Clooney. Their terpsichorean complements are smiley/pouty Jill Townsend and in the Danny Kaye role, Jeffrey Scott Parsons, the most delectable tapper this side of The Great White Way. One of the more inspired additions is the expanded role of frumpy desk clerk, Martha, who gets a couple of numbers that Karla J. Franko knocks outta the park.
The colorful costumes are constantly-changing, as are the sets, more simply. Even if you’re sugar- plummed out already, this is one delicious holiday confection that’s hard to resist.
The San Diego Musical Theatre production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” continues through December 23 at the Birch North Park Theatre.
©2012 PAT LAUNER