It’s snowing at The Players. Stage snow, of course. The occasion: Irving Berlin’s "White Christmas.” Dewayne Barrett is the director and choreographer of this sentimental holiday favorite.
It’s a musical — and mostly music. The production offers a snappy revue of 16 Berlin standards: “I Love a Piano,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep),” “How Deep is the Ocean” and “White Christmas,” to name a few. Berlin’s tunes are familiar, even to baby boomer ears. The man was a hit machine. The story, thin as it is, basically functions as a set-up for his tunes. Said story was lifted whole-hog from the 1954 Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye musical.
In case you missed the rerun on Turner Classic Movies, the musical unfolds in the post-World War II period. Two Army buddies (Bob Wallace, played by John Andruzzi, and Phil Davis, played by Joseph Strickland) are now a song-and-dance team. (Highly successful headliners on "The Ed Sullivan Show"!) But, instead of opening in Miami, they wind up going to Vermont to save their general’s dilapidated country inn by putting on a show in the barn out back. (For some reason, this always seems to work in musicals.) Along the way, they fall in love with a sister act (Alana Opie and Tahlia Byers). Do the brothers win their hearts? Do they save the general’s inn? Does it snow? Does Godot show up? The outcome is never in doubt.
Barrett directs this period piece with period flair. His high-energy production honors the style of the times. Think tap-dancing, chorus lines, four-part harmonies in an alternate theatrical universe where Bob Fosse and Andrew Lloyd Webber had never been born.
As to the high-energy performers: Wallace and Strickland make a believable comedy team; they riff off nicely against each other and make you buy it. Opie and Byers alternate between screwball patter and heartwarming moments as the Haynes sisters. In supporting roles, George Naylor makes a suitably crusty General Waverly; Shelley Whiteside is a scene-stealer as the desk clerk with a Broadway background; Kaitlyn Cairo is endearing as a wannabe child star who always dials it up to 11; Jolie Rand and Lauren LaBoissiere earn giggles as perpetually giggly chorus girls, Rita and Rhoda; Brian Finnerty is funny as the perpetually angry Dom DeLuise-ish stage manager; Bill Cairo’s taciturn New Englander character has pretty much one line — “A-yup.” But he makes that funny, too.
The production’s acting styles and song-and dance routines evoke the 1950s film without being a dead steal. Barrett’s homage offers room for inventiveness and surprise. The costumes and scenery hit the same note — suggestive and evocative without being literal and dull. Kudos to set designer Kirk Hughes, costumer Jared Walker and everyone on the Players’ creative team for engineering this lost world.
You get the sense that everyone involved in this had a whole lot of fun. The opening night audience did, too.
At the risk of unwrapping the present too early and spoiling the surprise, “White Christmas” offers a big thumbs-up for family values, military loyalty, true love, Christmas spirit and nostalgia. In the world of this musical, all the bad guys were defeated in World War II. The only conflicts are misunderstandings; the only ending is happy. Is it sentimental? You better believe it.
It’s like stepping into a giant Christmas card.
IF YOU GO
“White Christmas” runs through Dec. 22, at Players Theatre, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. For more information, call 365-2494 or visit theplayers.org
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- My name is Shelley Whiteside and I paly the role of Martha, the desk clerk, in White Christmas. You've referred to me in your review as Mary Wickes - "Mary Wickes is a scene-stealer as the desk clerk with a Broadway background;
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