by Lorie Lewis Ham
I grew up watching the movie version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and still watch it every once in awhile-it was always a holiday favorite in my family. It is a fun Christmas musical with great songs, a sweet story, and a great cast, which includes Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. This past weekend the stage version of the musical opened at the College of the Sequoias in Visalia and it did not disappoint.
The basic story of White Christmas in both versions starts out with two army soldiers toward the end of World War II putting on a Christmas show for the men in their division. The story then jumps ahead to when the pair-Bob Wallace (Jack O’ Leary) and Phil Davis (Jonathan Jones) – have become Broadway stars. They are headed to Florida for the Christmas holidays to work on a new show, but thanks to Phil they end up sidetracked to Vermont because of a couple of young women-Betty (Jordyn White) and Judy (Kayla Seffing) Haynes-who are related to someone from their old division in the Army. It turns out that the inn these young women are supposed to perform at is owned by Phil and Bob’s old General, General Henry Waverly (Doug Scarbrough). The General’s inn is failing and Wallace and Davis decide to try to save it. Along the way, there is a lot of singing and dancing and of course romance. Other characters include the General’s granddaughter Susan (Madeline Burchett), and Martha Watson (Nancy Gregg) who helps run the inn.
While the plot of the stage version is roughly the same basic story as the movie, there are a lot of little changes. There are also a lot of songs in the movie that aren’t in the musical, and visa versa. While this wasn’t the White Christmas I grew up with, I loved it! Most of my favorite songs from the movie are in the show–including of course “White Christmas,” and also “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” “Count Your Blessings,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” and “Sisters.” Some of the additions (which are also Irving Berlin songs just not from the White Christmas movie) include a full version of “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” One song that I had never heard before and really enjoyed was “Love and the Weather.”
Jack O’ Leary and Jordyn White were perfect in this show–their voices are strong and beautiful. Jordyn did Rosemary Clooney proud in one of my favorite songs, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and the pair blended beautifully in “How Deep is the Ocean.” Kayla Seffing shines in her tap number, “I Love A Piano.” Jonathan Jones has nice chemistry with both Jack and Kayla. Nancy Gregg wowed the audience with her big voice in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” Madeline Burchett as young Susan was absolutely adorable and has a lovely voice. Doug Scarbrough as the General also has a strong baritone voice I would have liked to hear more of, and which according to his bio has been heard by five US presidents (don’t miss his impressive bio in the program).
The costumes were beautiful, the big numbers were a lot of fun, and overall this is just a wonderful way to celebrate Christmas this year. Kudos go out to the entire cast and crew for a great show. Don’t go to this show expecting the movie version, but do go! You won’t regret it!
White Christmas continues on stage until December 4 at COS at 915 S. Mooney Blvd. in Visalia. Tickets can be purchased at COSTheatre.org/tickets or by calling (559) 730-3907.
You can find more theatre articles, and other entertainment articles, in our Arts & Entertainment section.