“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Shines at Croswell (Review)

Late to the game in reviewing Croswell Opera House’s “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”, I just wanted to pipe into the already growing number of rave reviews with a rave of my own.


First, in the world of musical theater when it comes to super-spectaculars like White Christmas, Croswell Opera House is one of the only theaters in SE Michigan that can do it right — full glorious sets (Michael Lackey), a full superb orchestra (21 pieces under the able direction of Wynne Marsh), sharp costumes (Pam Krage), good lighting and sound (Tiff Crutchfield, Tyler Miller) and every detail just right in the swiftly moving evening directed by Betsy Lackey and choreographed by Sarah Nowak.

Second, when everything clicks on all cylinders at the Croswell, it creates musical theater magic (witness Seven Brides for Seven Brothers a few summers ago). And that is what the group has in this shining production of White Christmas. There are too many highlights to mention here, but let me particularly point out the superb tap-stravaganza opener of Act 2 “I Love a Piano” and of course that lump-in-the-throat, obligatory red-costumed finale “White Christmas” with snow in the audience.

Jim Craig (Bob Wallace) and Joe Dennehy (Phil Davis) show great chemistry together as song-and-dance partners (Bob more song, Joe more dance), and they are matched in charisma by sister team Betty and Judy Haynes (Mackenzie Dryer and Libby Bruno). Jim and Mackenzie work well together in their off-again-off-again-finally-on romance, and Joe and Libby create fine dance moments together. Libby Bruno, in fact, is a remarkable new find for the Croswell — she’s a singing, dancing, acting triple threat — she and Mackenzie could be sisters in real-life they look, sound, and move so similarly.  Also strong is Sarah Nowak as Martha Watson, Keith Hamen as General Waverly (come on, Croswell, there had to be better uniforms downstairs in the catacombs), and a delightful young Rio Doyle as Susan Waverly.

The very good ensemble taps and dances their way through many (many) numbers — from “Happy Holiday” through “Blue Skies”, the aforementioned “I Love a Piano”, “Snow”,  and many other familiar numbers. The musical itself takes the best of the original movie and adds a few additional Berlin standards and not-so-standards to round out the evening.

I’ve seen the professional production of White Christmas so many times (probably about 11), and I have to admit that I miss the Randy Skinner choreography, which is so intertwined with everything happening on stage — but Sarah Nowak here has created good original work, and things look sharp — though I kept wishing the opening number would open up more, as it was entirely cramped into one, hiding the sets behind the first traveler — contrast this with the finer duos, trios, and couplings in “Blue Skies” at the end of Act 1 when things are allowed to open up full stage.

I know this review is too late to sell tickets (the show has one final performance this afternoon), but don’t delay in buying your tickets to next season’s shows. They’ve already announced an exciting summer 2014 line-up, and White Christmas has completed a very successful 2013 season for them.

May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

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