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“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Shines at Croswell (Review) December 22, 2013

Posted by ronannarbor in musical theater, Musicals.
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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.

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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.

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at Wharton Center, East Lansing (Review) is a Dream December 9, 2009

Posted by ronannarbor in Entertainment, Theatre.
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Okay, let me state this for the record: I have seen White Christmas, the musical, 7 times now – between San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, and East Lansing. I love this show, and am not going to review the show itself…This is the 2009 Tour that made a one-week stop at the Wharton Center at MSU, East Lansing.

The show is a dream – and the cast is one of the best I’ve seen since the initial production in San Francisco (still my favorite cast – but maybe just because I saw them first and could brag for a year until other people started to see the show in it’s season incarnations). Stephen Bogardus and Kerry O’Malley reprise their roles from the NYC 2008 production. David Elder and Megan Sikora play their dancing-fool sidekicks, and they are dandy together. This production features the best-danced “I Love a Piano” that I have seen in four different incarnations. The Elder/Sikora “Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is perfection. The tap dancing throughout this production is spectacular by the entire cast. Stephen Bogardus brings charm and style to his role, while Kerry O’Malley is just plain lovable.

What is currently a drought of productions and jobs on Broadway has resulted in one of the most talented dancing casts in ages — there are folks in this show that normally play leads in other musicals. It all lends a wonderfully polished perfection to the show as a whole. Lorna Luft makes a fine Martha Watson and sings her heart out in her big show-stopper number. Her stardom in no way overshadows any of the cast members, and she appears to be having the time of her life.

For those who saw the show at the Fox Theatre, be warned that it’s a different creature at Wharton Center — featured as part of it’s Broadway tour season, the performances are near sold-out throughout the run. There appear to be balcony and scattered rear orchestra seats available for some performances this week — but don’t expect you can walk up to the box office like you could at the Fox and just get great seats. Not the case here.

For those not in the know – this is just a holiday treat — a big, colorful, Randy Skinner tap-dance filled extravaganza. It could really play at any time, not just Christmas time — it’s a full-blown Broadway musical with spectacular dancing and a fine familiar book and score. Filled with classics like “White Christmas”, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, “Snow”, “Blue Skies”, “Sisters”, “I’ve Got My love to Keep Me Warm” and a half-dozen others. It moves at lightning pace, and it’s a musical lovers musical, much like “42nd Street” or “Babes in Arms”.

Go, have fun, and see a spectacular cast. On a final note — beware the weather. I don’t know which was more exciting on Tuesday night — opening night at White Christmas, or the spectacularly dangerous drive home to Ann Arbor for an hour in some of the worst driving weather you could imagine — snow, turning to sleet, turning to ice. I hate driving, and I particularly hated driving home after the show. Luckily I had the White Christmas cast album on my iPhone to play through the car stereo system to keep me in a good mood. Check the weather reports before you head out this week. I leave for Florida tomorrow, or I would have seen the show a second time if I could. But I’m glad I will be out of this weather in less than 24 hours for a week. For those of you left behind in this Michigan weather — go enjoy this “warm cup of hot chocolate” musical. Go see a Broadway show.

And that’s the view from Ann Arbor this week.