By Erika Brown Thomas
Theatre at the Center’s production of White Christmas is an incredible presentation of the classic Christmas film. Slight updates to the dated script and the timeless music of Irving Berlin make this show a holiday must-see.
There are fabulous musical numbers in the stage production that never saw their way to the silver screen, and more’s the pity because they are instant hits. Many a young aspiring actor/singer would do well to look to the standards written by masters of musical theatre such as Berlin, and their contemporaries, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart and George Gershwin, just to name a few.
These classic show songs are perfect for audition and performance repertoire as well as sing-alongs around the piano. The tunes are incredibly memorable with romantic lyrics, and in Theatre at the Center’s production, set to choreography by Director/Choreographer Linda Fortunato, summon forth the iconic elegance and style of the time.
The musical numbers “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and the well-known classic, “Blue Skie,s” are particularly standout pieces. These numbers showcase the company’s mastery of the vocal stylings of the era and intricate and tight jazz harmonies with sophisticated toe tapping choreography.
The scenic design by Jack MaGaw is simplistic, yet effective as it transitions seamlessly from setting to setting. Nuances of the different environments are masterfully illuminated by lightning designer, Denise Karczewski.
Matt Edmonds plays the rigid and recalcitrant Bob Wallace of the famed duo, Wallace & Davis. Edmonds plays the foil to the cheeky and corny humor of the old Broadway book to perfection. His cringeworthy conversations with leading lady, Betty Haynes (Erica Stephan) are awkwardly humorous and mayhap more representative of “real life” blind dates and stage crushes than any would care to admit. Edmonds displays an incredible sensitivity to dynamics within each of the ballads crooned by cinematic star Bing Crosby. His performance wows and sets a high bar for the rest of the cast.
Stephan also presents a performance that holds up to the incomparable Rosemary Clooney’s classic crooning. Her terrific rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is enhanced by the gorgeous costume design and stylings of Brenda Winstead.
The counter duo to Bob & Betty’s romantic rows are Phil & Judy (Justin Brill & Casiena Raether).
Brill possesses a charisma similar to Fred Astaire. The close-mouthed smile with eyes alight with mischief alluding to the idea that everything is slightly funny and even the toughest situations are conquered through humor. His light tenor voice lends itself easily to the lilting Berlin melodies and leaves a smile on the faces of audience members all around with his dancing feet.
Raether is the perfect match for her onstage sister, Betty, and love interest, Phil. As the kid sister trying to loosen up her Betty’s rigidity in both love and life, Raether is the perfect sibling antagonist – teasing and pushing all the right buttons with amusement and affection.
Bob & Betty’s duet, “Love and the Weather,” Phil & Judy’s, “I Love a Piano,” and both duos’ renditions of “Sisters” demonstrate an easy, effortless flair for the graceful musical numbers of Mr. Irving Berlin.
Glory Kissel portrays the ineffable hotel concierge Martha Watson. Her physical comedy and energy wrings forth laugh after laugh and in her show stopping number, “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” even a happy tear or two! Kissel is #musicaltheatrelifegoals!
Theatre at the Center presents “White Christmas” through December 22 at 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN. More information and tickets are available here.