Updated: Feb 11
“White Christmas,” at the Engeman Theater, is an Enchanting Holiday Must-See for the Entire Family
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical is based on the beloved Paramount Pictures 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney. This two-act show features music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by David Ives and Paul Blake.
The musical opens somewhere on the Western Front of WW II, on Christmas Eve, 1944, where we meet our two leading men, who are still in the army and entertaining the troops with a holiday show. From the opening numbers, “Happy Holiday” and “White Christmas,” Daniel Plimpton as Phil Davis and Aaron Young as Bob Wallace let us know that they can sing, they can dance, and they can act! We also get to meet the formidable General Henry Waverly, played to perfection by Keith Lee Grant. Mr. Grant has a stately demeanor and a commanding voice that served this part well.
Fast forward to 1954 when Bob and Phil, now well-known Broadway song-and-dance stars, appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. Later that evening, they go to “Jimmy’s Back Room” to catch Betty and Judy Haynes nightclub act. Donned in stunning blue dresses, Meadow Nguy as Betty and Darien Crago as Judy blow Bob and Phil away with their powerful voices, strong stage presence, and incredible fan dance as they perform “Sisters,” a song humorously reprised by Bob and Phil during Act II. Through some scheming on Phil and Judy’s part, they all wind up in Vermont, at the Columbia Inn, owned by Henry Waverly, Bob and Phil’s former general. As soon as they discover that this ski resort is in severe financial trouble, Phil and Bob recruit their old army buddy, now a prominent television executive, Ralph Sheldrake, convincingly played by Nick Abbott, to help save the Inn.
Suzanne Mason as Martha Watson, the Inn’s wisecracking concierge, aced the role, and she gave a showstopping performance with her rendition of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” Annabelle Deaner, as the general’s precocious granddaughter, Susan Waverly, was charismatic when she performed her own rousing version of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” Hearing such a big voice coming from this gifted little girl was one of the show’s high points.
The very talented Stephen Valenti played several roles, including the snoring man on the train who wakes up and sings his heart out, and Ezekiel Foster, a slow-moving farmhand who is a man of few words, yet riotously funny. During the intermission, Mr. Valenti entertained the audience with his well-choreographed, painfully slow sweeping of the stage.
One of the most moving scenes in the show takes place in the Regency Room in New York City, where Betty performs the touching ballad, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.” Ms. Nguy’s euphonious voice was filled with passion and longing when she delivered this heartrending song. Mr. Young gave a standout performance when he crooned “How Deep is the Ocean.”
Under the astute direction of Matt Kunkel, the entire ensemble was energetic and flawless throughout. Kyle Dixon’s innovative set design, especially the quintessential Vermont barn, added a bit of holiday charm to the show. There are many incredible 1950-style costumes by Dustin Cross, all of them ideally suited for each number. Using black and white outfits to represent keyboard colors during the song “I Love a Piano” was a stroke of genius. This electrifying number had one of the most complex tap-dancing routines you will ever see on any stage. I am sure the rousing standing ovation at the show’s end had a great deal to do with Drew Humphrey’s outstanding choreography.
“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” was one the most beloved dance numbers in the White Christmas movie and of all times for that matter, and Mr. Plimpton and Ms. Crago’s talent really shined through in this graceful and elegant dance performance that gave Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen a run for their money.
Make your holidays merry and bright by treating your family to this fun, festive, feel-good musical.
The Engeman Theater is having a fundraiser for the local food pantry, so please bring a few extra bucks to drop in the baskets as you leave; after all, this is the season to count your blessings and to be charitable.