Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Godspell
In the many years of La Comedia Dinner Theatre's storied history, White Christmas is their most popular show ever. In its return engagement to this Springboro, Ohio, destination, the musical boasts a fine cast, superb choreography, and first-rate songs, even if the story is somewhat lackluster. Still, La Comedia knows how to celebrate the holidays in style, and it's easy to see why it is such a big hit with their audiences.
White Christmas is based on the 1954 film of the same title, and follows the antics of two World War II veterans (Bob and Phil) who become a famous song-and-dance duo in the 1950s. As they prepare for their new show, they meet a pair of performing sisters (Betty and Judy) and follow them to a mountain lodge in Vermont where the ladies are scheduled to perform. The near-bankrupt lodge turns out to be owned by the men's former general, and they generously initiate a plan to help their old friend and commander avoid financial ruin.
The book is by David Ives and Paul Blake, and it follows the film's general story, with some details altered (including some expansion of supporting characters). The plot is quite corny, with the main conflict coming from a simple misunderstanding. Other old-fashioned sentiments like "hey, let's put on a show in a barn" abound as well. Even with healthy doses of humor, romance, drama and fun, as well as a storyline with a good heart that fits the sentiments and emotions of Christmas, the book is predictable.
The main asset of White Christmas is its uplifting score by Irving Berlin. The stage version includes most of the songs from the movie, including "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings," "Snow" and the title number. Other Berlin tunes, such as "Let Yourself Go," "Blue Skies," and "I Love A Piano", which weren't in the film or were only heard in brief snippets, have been included in this stage version in a fairly seamless fashion. Mr. Berlin's classic songs are high quality ones, with snappy melodies and first-class lyrics.
Chris Beiser serves as the director and choreographer of this production. His dances are splendid and truly the highlight of the production. Mr. Beiser's direction includes smooth transitions (not always a given in dinner theatres), well-suited blocking, and an apt tone for the piece. The show does drag in a few spots, but that's due more to the writing than anything else with this mounting.
As cynical Bob, Austin Adomitis is appropriately stoic and guarded, and he sings and dances well. As the character allows himself to become more vulnerable, it would be good to have Mr. Adomitis likewise loosen up a bit more to allow for stronger onstage chemistry with his female counterpart. Caleb Michael is befittingly funny and happy, and he dances up a storm throughout the show. Both leading men are too young for the roles in reality, but they allow their acting skills to overcome the visual disparity. Mica Dominguez-Robinson displays vocal versatility as Betty, delicate and warm voiced at the beginning, but sultry during her performance of "How Deep Is The Ocean." Marjie Shrimpton seems to pop right out of the 1950s, perfectly fitting an endearing, girl-next-door persona that works well for Judy, and she shows strong vocal and dance skills.
As the innkeeper's assistant Martha, Andrea Spencer Christensen turns in the show's best performance, showing off a big voice, praiseworthy comedic ability, and authentic showbiz razzmatazz to great effect. La Comedia vet Chris Kramer is appropriately stern and proud as General Waverly, and he shows off impeccable singing in the post-bows traditional rendition of "O, Holy Night" that always ends La Comedia's holiday show. Mandi Kingrey, who shares the role of Susan with Sophie Caton, thankfully presents her young character as wholesome and smart rather than the usual precocious take on the role. The ensemble performs admirably, and executes the many challenging dances with great skill.
The set design isn't specifically attributed to anyone in the program, but is generally varied, efficient, and cohesive. The lighting by Geoffrey D. Fishburn uses a unique color palette to good effect, and the costumes by A. T. Jones are period appropriate and handsome.
Despite the imperfect book for the show, and the need for a bit more time for the cast to settle into the right chemistry (there's time, given the show's two-month run), this production of White Christmas is sure to please the many theatergoers who will celebrate the holidays at La Comedia this season. Glorious choreography, memorable songs, and a talented cast (and don't forget the pretty darn good buffet) make this holiday tradition one that is sure to again be a hit.
White Christmas, through December 31, 2018, at La Comedia Dinner Theatre, 765 W Central Ave, Springboro OH. For tickets and information, visit www.lacomedia.com or call 800-677-9505.