‘White Christmas’ is a dream

Posted: Saturday, December 6, 2014 12:05 am
Lynn Felder/Winston-Salem Journal

Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance fielded a new harbinger of the holiday season Friday night with the opening of “White Christmas.”

The theatrical version of the 1954 movie musical includes even more wonderful Irving Berlin songs.

The expectable “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters” and “We’ll Follow the Old Man” are joined in this production by “How Deep Is the Ocean” and “Blue Skies,” to name a few.

Here’s a quick synopsis for anybody who’s missed this particular icon of Christmas culture:

After World War II, Army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis become wildly successful song-and-dance men. On their way to Miami for a big gig, they meet a pair of pretty singing sisters whom they follow to a Vermont ski lodge, which just happens to be owned by the guys’ old Army general, played by Jim Freeman.

Bob and Phil hatch a plan to save the lodge, which — of course — involves putting on a show.

Ann Davis-Rowe, following up her recent star turn in the title role of “Carrie: The Musical,” makes a great supporting appearance here in the role of Martha Watson, Gen. Waverly’s longsuffering and underappreciated concierge. She displayed Ethel Merman-like vocal chops and a fantastic stage presence.

Mary Isom, as Judy Haymes, is a delight on the dance floor, which she and Gray Smith, as Phil Davis, mop up with “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” It’s a Whitman’s Sampler of ballroom dance styles.

Isom and Smith tear it up again in “I Love a Piano,” a tap number.

There’s a lot of dancing in this show. Four choreographers are listed in the program: Allen Berryhill, Isom, Benji Starcher and Lawson.

Mary Lea Williams is her usual adorable self in the role of Betty Haymes, the more romantically reticent of the sisters, and she deserves better treatment by the sound tech; her mike sadly was a mess for most of the evening.

Betty meets her match in Bob, played smoothly by David Joy. Joy does a fabulous job with “Blue Skies.” The song seems made for his voice, and Joy handles himself well in the dance numbers. The singing by all in “Blue Skies” is one of the highlights of the show, a great addition.

Bea Howell, a freshman at Reynolds High School, also deserves special mention in the role of the general’s granddaughter, Susan. She’s a bright light.

Director Jamie Lawson has made a gorgeous, cohesive production with solid scenic design by Thad Templeton and complementary image projection designed by Ken Ashford. Add to all that great costumes by Caitlin Murphy and you’ve got an evening of solid, sentimental entertainment.

The stage version of “White Christmas,” with a libretto by David Ives and Paul Blake and music by Irving Berlin, debuted in San Francisco in 2004 and has been performed on Broadway and toured nationally, but it hasn’t become a staple of community theaters.

If Theatre Alliance can sort out the sound issues that it experienced on opening night — the recorded music often drowned out the singers — then it just might have a new holiday hit on its hands.