By Kay Kipling
Most theatergoers want and expect a bit of holiday cheer at this time of year, and local theaters are happy to oblige, with shows that either very directly or more indirectly reference Christmas and our nostalgia for past seasons spent with family and friends.
The Players’ White Christmas is very direct indeed about its connection to the holiday and to the past, specifically the 1954 movie with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and several famous Irving Berlin tunes that many of us grew up watching over and over on television. The delicate task of adapting such a classic for the stage always leaves the book writers (in this case David Ives and Paul Blake) in the position of deciding how much to change or not to change from the original. In the case of White Christmas, I sometimes found myself wishing they’d changed a little more, had a little more fun playing with our expectations or different attitudes several decades later. But the version you see on the Players stage will probably satisfy most audiences’ craving for light, romantic holiday fare
The cast is headed by John Andruzzi in the Crosby role as Bob Wallace and Joseph Strickland in the Kaye role as Phil Davis, two soldiers-turned-showmen who meet up with a sister act (Alana Opie and Tahlia Byers) while getting ready to put on a really big show. Naturally, Strickland’s conniving character works to get a love connection going between himself and sister Judy and the same for Bob and sister Betty, while they all get caught up in helping out the guys’ former general (George Naylor), now a struggling innkeeper in a surprisingly snowless Vermont.
The foursome are pretty well-chosen for their roles, with Strickland having the right frame and vocals for a light comedian and doing some nice dancing with the graceful Byers on a couple of numbers. (The Act II opener, I Love A Piano, is a standout, accompanied by an ensemble all clad in black and white costumes from designer Jared E. Walker.) Opie delivers on the torchy Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me , and Andruzzi, while not necessarily convincing as a professional song-and-dance man, has the right spirit as the awkward-in-love but well-intentioned Bob.
They’re supported by an ensemble that’s a bit short on men to represent the General’s former soldiers, but director-choreographer Dewayne Barrett does the best he can with the strength he has, setting up a fun train car number on Snow, for example. And there are a couple of supporting performances of note: Shelley Whiteside gives Let Me Sing and I’m Happy her all as the General’s meddling concierge (who happens to be a former showgirl herself), and Kaitlyn Cairo is bound to get applause as his determined young granddaughter, Susan, another show biz wannabe.
With Berlin songs like Blue Skies, Count Your Blessings and Sisters in the mix, it’s hard not to get a little sentimental with White Christmas, which runs through Dec. 22. For tickets, call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.