Review: White Christmas: The Musical

Delightfully corny, the Arts Club production of White Christmas: The Musical, currently playing the Stanley Theatre, will transport you back to a simpler time and literally have you singing in your seats.  And for those, like a certain someone in our household, who count the movie version of this holiday classic as among their favourites, you will not be disappointed.

Ten years after returning from the WWII, Bob Wallace (Jeffrey Victor) and Phil Davis (Todd Talbot) are a popular song-and-dance duo appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show where another of their Army buddies, Ralph Sheldrake (Mark Weatherley) just happens to be the booking agent.  Originally heading to Florida for a holiday show, Wallace and Davis are side-tracked by the lovely Haynes sisters, played by Monique Lund and Sara-Jeane Hosie, ending up in Vermont instead.

Arriving in Vermont during an unprecedented heat wave at a quaint inn that the girls are to perform at for the holidays, Wallace and Davis find their former Army General, Henry [Hank] Waverly (Rejean Cournoyer), is the inn-keeper.  Problem is, with the weather decidedly un-winter like, the inn is empty and Waverly faces the possibility of losing it all under a mountain of unpaid bills.  The answer?  Why, put on a huge show in the inn’s barn of course!

I had been wondering what happened to Todd Talbot given he was not appearing in the Arts Club’s other holiday fare, It’s A Wonderful Life, this year.  And while he will be missed as George Bailey, the casting of Talbot here instead is simply brilliant as he is not only able to act but can now prove he is also an accomplished singer and dancer too.  Talbot is a near perfect match to Jeffrey Victor as the other part of the duo, although I did find Victor sometimes overpowered in his duets both with Talbot and Lund.

White Christmas The Musical
Todd Talbot, Monique Lund, and the cast of White Christmas: The Musical. Photo by David Cooper.

Monique Lund and Sara Jean Hosie as the sister act are simply grand and Hosie’s “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is a definite showstopper.  Cournoyer’s General has just the right amount of gruffness that by the time of the big show his hard veneer cracks just enough to pull gently at our heart strings.  Susan Anderson’s Martha Watson is a great counterpoint to the General and her “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” brought down the house.

The ensemble here is first rate and Choreographer Valerie Easton certainly puts them through their paces and indeed Eastons’ big brassy tap number as part of “I Love a Piano” had me exhausted just watching these kids hoof it.

Musical Director Bruce Kellett is back at the helm once again and where Bruce and his Arts Club orchestra are usually holed up in some tiny space far from the audience’s eyes, this time they are front-and-centre in their formal wear adding another touch of class to the proceedings.  At times I did find the orchestra a bit overpowering but overall Kellett and his musicians do a spectacular job with Berlin’s score.

Set Designer Alison Green pulls off probably one of the most difficult elements of this show – the various locales.  From the Wallace & Davis dressing room at the Ed Sullivan Theatre, to the Vermont bound train, to the porch for the lovely “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and everything in between, Green’s designs are a delight to behold.

Costume Designer Sheila White once again shows her stuff capturing perfectly the 1950s and her use of luscious festive colors in the production numbers works perfectly with Green’s sets.

Reminiscent of the golden age of Broadway, White Christmas: The Musical is definitely a throwback to a different time but with its great music, a great cast, big beefy production numbers and a sweetness that is postcard perfect, this is truly a wonderful holiday treat.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical continues at the Arts Club Stanley Theatre through December 27th.  Visit http://www.artsclub.com for tickets and information.

3 1/2 stars of 5Irving Berlin’s White Christmas: The Musical
Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage, 2750 Granville Street
November 12 to December 27, 2009
Monday at 8 pm, Tuesday at 7:30 pm, Wednesday–Saturday at 8 pm, and Wednesday & Saturday at 2 pm

Tickets are $25, $45, and $64, inclusive of all tax and fees. Call the Arts Club Box Office at 604.687.1644 or visit artsclub.com.

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