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Sets grand, costumes sparkle, singing and dancing spectacular in Broadway Palm’s ‘White Christmas’


If Bing Crosby and Danny Kate’s 1954 remake of Holiday Inn has become a Christmas tradition in your household, you may think there’s nothing new for you to see in Broadway Palm’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Well, you’d be Ba Humug wrong! The sets are grand, the costumes sparkle, and the singing and dancing are spectacular. And if you’re intimately familiar with the movie’s plot and dialogue, you will be fascinated by the deviations and plot twists that have been made in order to convert the classic film into a classy live-theatre musical.

For those who just want to be entertained, well, as the song promises, “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” and that’s a function of Amy Marie McClary’s skilled direction and imaginative choreography coupled with the hard work, dedication and talent of her exuberant cast. The ensemble alone consists of eight dancers (who also sing and act), and when the full entourage is on stage together, it becomes as busy as Times Square on New Year’s Eve. In fact, part of the fun is watching how everyone moves through Evan Adamson’s colorful, well-constructed sets.

Sami Doherty and Matthew J. Brightbill play the roles of Judy Haynes and Phil Davis. They sizzle from the moment Brightbill takes Doherty in his arms for “Best Things,” which incorporates many of the best elements of a Dancing with the Stars freestyle performance including a number of exacting ballroom lifts and stylized drops that would even delight Carrie Ann Inaba, Derek Hough and Bruno Tonioli.

For as good as Doherty and Brightbill are in “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” the large song-and-dance numbers are spellbinding because of their sheer size, split-second timing and coordination and exceptional costuming. Even though “Snow” is more of a song number than a dance routine, there’s a lot of intricate activity going on in a condensed space as ersatz passengers on the train to Vermont wax philosophic about washing their face and hair in snow, shushing through powder and executing stem Christies down snow-covered ski slopes. But it’s the glitzy, top-hat Act-One-ending “Blue Skies” and ultra-sophisticated, ivory-on-ebony Act-Two-opening “I Love a Piano” that will have you talking long after the final bows.

McCleary never fails to impress with her fresh slant on venerable Broadway song-and-dance numbers.

Her re-imagined tap-centric choreography for “I Love a Piano” delivers the best dance number in a show that boasts many crowd-pleasing numbers – and that would undoubtedly prompt a smile from Irving Berlin, who considered “I Love a Piano” one of his best efforts all-time.

Speaking of Irving Berlin, many theater-goers will buy tickets to White Christmas just to hear the music. Six years ago, McClearly told Florida Weekly theater reviewer Nancy Stetson, “his melodies are catchy and haunting; he’s a genius, he really is.” An example of one such haunting number is the early Act One duet shared by Jason Kimmel, who plays Bob Wallace, and Katelyn Crall, who plays Betty Haynes, in which they draw analogies between the unpredictability and undependability of the weather and love. But when it comes to pure high-octane vocals, it’s all Crall. She nails her rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.” On opening night, her clear, powerful final notes drew thunderous applause from the audience, young and old alike.

But the most touching song in this show by far is “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” which the wizened Bob Wallace sings not to Betty Haynes (as in the movie), but to little Susan Waverly (played on opening night by scene-stealer Avalyn Clandra) as Betty looks on, heart melting in the wings.

The book for Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was written by David Ives and Paul Blake. It’s dated (of course, the play is set in 1954), and the script has been excoriated by reviewers since the show’s release in 2004 as lackluster and uninspired. Top hats off to McCleary and the cast. Through a combination of kinetic energy, fine acting and unbounded holiday cheer, they overcome whatever shortcomings exist when it comes to character development and plot.

That said, there’s surprisingly more here than initially meets the eye for folks demanding deeper meaning. You may need to mine the dialogue and inject a good dose of your own life experience to discover the themes, but they’re there to unwrap like professionally-packaged Christmas gifts.

“You can’t leave everything to fate,” says go-getter Judy Haynes to her sister about the fake letter she sends to Wallace and Davis so that they’ll come and see their act and perhaps use them in their next Broadway show. “Just like honesty needs a little plus, fate needs a little push.” And speaking of using promotion to get noticed, Amy Fenicle and Abigail Curran as the Oxydol girls, Rita and Rhoda, are hilarious in their comic-relief scenes. One can only wonder what the likes of these two would have done had they had selfies and Instagram at their disposal to hype their every move and meeting.

The storyline has something to say about the power of good deeds. While the premise of the musical involves two army buddies going to the ends of the earth (or at least to the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City) to repay the Old Man who kept them alive and well throughout the Army’s campaign to bring down the Third Reich. Their plan? Rehearse their new Broadway play at the General’s Columbia Inn and have as many members of the 151st show up for the inaugural performance in order to save the inn from financial ruin.

Sami Doherty’s scenes as a jealous Judy Haynes are priceless as she feeds her green-eyed monster every time social climbing Rita and Rhoda throw themselves at Phil. Of course, Judy herself could be viewed from the same metric, couldn’t she? With foot atop Phil’s prone body, she channels her inner Beyonce and tells her man that he better put a ring on her wagging finger. But does that really solve the problem when your man has a wandering eye and the celebrity to attract virtually any woman he wants?

But Betty Haynes provides, perhaps, one of the most poignant object lessons in the entire show. Is it Bob Wallace the man or the man she wants Bob Wallace to be the person she falls in love with? And if it’s the latter, is there hope for a lasting, mutually-supportive relationship or is their love doomed to failure when he inevitably fails to measure up?

Oh, there are other themes and messages to take away from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and that’s yet another reason you should include this well-done, smartly staged musical on your holiday “must do” list. In this show, that’s the ensemble. They don’t just support the leads. Patrick Agonito, Kiana Raine Cintron, Abigail Curran, Josh England, Amy Fenicle, Anthony Recine, Josiah Thomas Randolph and Madeline Grace Smith set the tone. Without their effervescence, it’d be kind of like having a white Christmas without the snow!

Other standouts in this stellar production are Bonner Church as Martha Watson (the General’s right hand who actually runs the inn), Josh England as the ever-flummoxed dance captain, and Max Cervantes as Ralph Sheldrake.

But overall, Broadway Palm’s White Christmas is entertainment and nostalgia served up with a spade full of snow!

November 19, 2022.


Sami Doherty reprising role of Judy Haynes in ‘White Christmas’

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