Now that the turkey has been gobbled down, and the Black Friday deals have been gathered up, the Christmas season is off and running. For many, this is a time of year for traditions and being with family. One of the great traditions of the season is watching all of those classic Holiday movies. In the list of great Christmas films, no other pulls at the sentimental heartstrings like 1954’s “White Christmas.” It is the classic story of two army buddies who, along with a pair of singing sisters called The Haynes sisters, find themselves trying to help out their Army General (recently turned inn keeper), General Waverly, during a heatwave in Vermont. The film featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood of the day, like Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. If “White Christmas” is on your “must watch” list every December, you are in for a special treat. The story has now been brought to life for the stage and is currently running at Cincinnati’s own Aronoff Center now through December 6th!
The touring company has taken great care to pay tribute to the original story and characters of the 1954 film, but has also added just enough new touches to make it fresh and exciting to even the most devout fan. While the primary focus of the film is on the four central characters of the story, the musical introduces us a little better to the supporting cast of characters. A perfect example of this is the Inn’s resident busy body, desk attendant, Martha Watson. Played by Pamela Myers, the character of Martha is given depth and the extra attention that it deserves. While she is still steaming open letters and eavesdropping on phone calls, we also see a woman who craves the lights of the stage. She will stop at nothing to be a part of the Wallace and Davis extravaganza being staged at the Vermont Inn. The success of the evolution of this charterer is largely due to the performance of Myers. She managed to find the perfect balance of pushy and caring to make the audience love her. Her musical numbers of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” and “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” were very pleasant additions to the show.
While adding new elements to such a well known piece of work is difficult to successfully do, it is just as hard, if not harder, to live up to the performances of the original. In this case, today’s cast had the shoes of Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen to fill. Anyone who is familiar with the movie and then sees the stage performance becomes an instant critic of the players performance. This is an immeasurable pressure for any actor to deal with. The players in question showed that they have the goods for the job and were up for the task. Sean Montgomery took on the role of Bob Wallace, originally played by Crosby, and Kerry Conte played the role of Betty Haynes. The duo of Montgomery and Conte had great chemistry together and played their roles with a great balance of respect to Crosby and Clooney, yet made the roles their own. Conte’s voice was also a highlight of the show’s soundtrack. Balancing out their responsible counterparts, Jeremy Benton and Kelly Sheehan took on the partners in crime of Phil Davis and Judy Haynes, roles made famous by Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen. Benton and Sheehan were so fun to watch during the whole performance. They truly captured the spirit of the roles while keeping things light and fun, even when we weren’t sure what was going to happen between Betty and Bob. While the duo showed great comedic prowess, the measure of their talent was displayed during the opening number of the second act, “I Love a Piano.” The piece starts out as a great musical number and ends as a rousing tap dance featuring the duo and the chorus. The performance drew quite a response from the appreciative audience. While these performances were highlighted here for you, the rest of the ensemble delivered truly wonderful performances, including Conrad John Schuck as General Waverly, Cliff Bemis as Ezekiel, David Perlman as Ralph Sheldrake and young Samantha Penny as Susan Waverly.
As great as the cast is, a performance is only as good as the crew behind the scenes who make the magic happen. A good production team is crucial for transporting the audience from their seats into the moment. For White Christmas, production stage manager, John W. Calder III and his crew successfully turn the Aronoff Center into Vermont’s Columbia Inn. During the two hour performance, seamless scene changes take the audience on a journey from a battlefront in World War II, to the Ed Sullivan Show in New York, to the inside of the Inn’s barn. The behind the scenes team save their best for last during the show’s closing scene. There will be no spoilers given here, but it is a magical moment that will have you singing along with the cast.
White Christmas the Musical is a special treat for the Cincinnati area that the whole family will enjoy. There are a couple of moments of adult humor, but they will pass right over the kiddies heads. Do yourself a favor and make plans to attend a performance before the curtain closes on December 6th. It will have you counting your blessings and get you right in the Christmas spirit!
A Cincinnati Connection:
Another similarity between the original 1954 film and today’s musical is White Christmas’s Cincinnati connection. Two stars from the original film lived in Cincinnati. Rosemary Clooney would move to Cincinnati to live and work, and Vera Ellen was born in Norwood, OH. Three stars from White Christmas the Musical are graduates from the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Those stars are Sean Montgomery, Kerry Conte and Pamela Myers.
Not in the Cincinnati area? Find out where White Christmas is playing next by clicking the links below…