Showbiz is at the heart of White Christmas. The popular 1954 movie has been translated into a charming stage musical that’s premiering locally at the Covedale Center this month. (A touring production passed through Cincinnati in November 2009.) This backstage musical about good-hearted people putting on a show to save a struggling Vermont ski lodge is perfect for the Covedale’s mainstream audience, and the performance I attended at the converted movie theater, a Sunday matinee, had every one of its 400 seats filled with people loving what they were seeing.
The plot is the same as the classic film: Bob Wallace (Rick Kramer) and Phil Davis (Dan Doerger), a popular song-and-dance team, assemble a show to help out the inn’s owner, their one-time army division commander. They’ve been diverted from their trek to Miami to rehearse a new nightclub act when Phil decides to pursue a pair of gorgeous singing sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes (Elizabeth Beiting-Lipps and Allison Evans). Once Phil hijacks Bob to Vermont — where warm weather is making business even worse for the failing ski lodge — they use their connections to do a show and invite the soldiers from their old division to bring their families and fill the hall. Oh, by the way, they guys end up romantically involved with Betty and Judy..
The show is billed as “Irving Berlin’s” White Christmas, and with good reason: It’s awash in tunes by the master songwriter from start (“Happy Holidays”) to finish (“I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”). The mellow title song, performed by Kramer, is a standout, as is “Sisters,” a jaunty introductory song for the Haynes girls. Inventive choreography by Karie-Lee Sutherland uses more great Berlin numbers: “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano” provide an infectious dose of tapping, and “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” shows off Doerger’s and Evans’ skills in a routine suitable for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
Kramer’s sincerity shines through in “Count Your Blessings” and the romantic number, “How Deep Is the Ocean?” Whether you like this production nor not — and I suspect you will — there’s enough music to satisfy even the grouchiest Grinch. Kramer and Doerger paint Wallace and Davis as nice guys with a does of showbiz larceny, and you just have to like their characters. (Doerger’s performance has been recognized by the League of Cincinnati Theatres with an awards, and I’d give one to Kramer, too, if I had a vote.) I wish these two actors weren’t so much older than their romantic counterparts. Evans (a student at Northern Kentucky University) and Beiting-Lipps (a recent grad of Otterbein College) are fine singers and dancers, but they’re young enough to be the men’s daughters.
The production also benefits from strong performances by Torie Pate as Martha Watson, the feisty inn manager (her unstoppable number “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” really got the audience revved up), by David Roth as the sincere general who hasn’t quite adjusted to civilian life and by Tatum Wilmes, a sixth-grader who plays his stage-struck granddaughter. She does a fine job reprising “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” showing a few showbiz moves of her own.
The show features a prodigious array of colorful, glittering costumes designed by Caren Young, every bit as imaginative and suitable as those we saw onstage with the touring production two years ago. Director Tim Perrino keeps things moving, and a set with numerous quickly located units makes for swift scene changes. If you’re want a holiday show with tons of entertainment (and not a scary ghost in sight), this one’s for you.
WHITE CHRISTMAS, presented by Cincinnati Landmark Productions at the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through Dec. 23. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.