Theatre Review: “White Christmas” at Beef and Boards

Last Tuesday night was a special treat for me: I got to see live theatre during the week!  (When I become independently wealthy, I am going to go out for dinner and see live theatre every night of the week!)

I drove over to Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre on the northwest side of Indianapolis to see “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”  It is based on the Paramount Pictures film, which I love for its nostalgia, so I had been looking forward to the Beef&Boards show ever since they announced their 2010 season last year.

The staged production is enough like the movie to be satisfying but also magical in its own way because it is live and shared in an intimate setting.  It is fun and romantic!  The epitome of “feel good.”  Although the story of it takes place during the Christmas season, it is more about love and loyalty between people than about Christ’s birth or Santa Claus.

What the Show Is About

It is really two stories that become entwined:

1)   Two men become friends while they are soldiers under a certain general during World War Two.  After the war, the two Army buddies become famous entertainers on Broadway and TV.  Two sisters who are hoping to become famous entertainers themselves finagle their way into a sort of audition for the two men.  One of the men is a playboy, but he and one of the sisters fall in love anyway.  The other man and woman have given up on love but, of course, they fall in love with each other, too, resisting all the way.

2)   The general has retired and now runs a ski resort in Vermont, but because he has tried to run the vacation spot in the same regimented way that he ran his army and because there has not been any snow in a while to attract skiers, he is in danger of going bankrupt and losing the hotel. 

The two sisters happen to be scheduled to perform at the floundering Vermont hotel.  The two men follow them instead of going to Florida to try out their new Broadway show.  When they all arrive in Vermont, the men realize that they have a chance to help not only the sisters’ careers but also their beloved general and his family by putting on their show in Vermont instead of Florida, so that’s what they do.   A misunderstanding or two keeps everyone from living happily ever after right away.

Artistic Considerations

Not everything hangs together in this piece – or in the movie – in a logical, believable way, but if you can let go of expecting that, I bet you will have a great time.  Under Eddie Curry’s able direction, the pace is as fast and fun as a tobbogan ride.

I enjoyed the whole show, but the “oh, THIS is why I’m here tonight” moment came during a duet when Christine Mild as Betty Haynes (the love-resistant sister) has fled Vermont to accept a solo gig singing in New York because she thinks that Capt. Bob Wallace (the love-resistant soldier, played by Curt Dale Clark) is not the man she thought he was.  Bob follows her to New York and sings about the ocean-like depth of his love “silently” to her from the sidelines while she sings to her New York audience, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” 

Every rejection I’ve ever received, every miscommunication, every heart ache, resonated exquisitely with Christine’s singing.  “Torch” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  And then when Curt sang, too, I swooned and thought, “Oh, somehow, somehow!  Please let this work out!” even as I knew it somehow would. 

My other two favorite pleasures of the evening were the joyous tap dancing (choreography by Ron Morgan) and the singing of favorite songs such as “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters,” and, of course, the title song, which you’re invited to sing along with at the end.

I also appreciated the individual performances of everyone in the show.  Erin West is sprightly and vivacious as Judy Haynes (the open-to-adventure sister) and Timothy Ford is irresistibly cute as the dapper, 1950s playa, Pfc. Phil Davis.  Douglas E. Stark is both fierce and cuddly in his role as General Henry Waverly/grandfather to sweet and likable Susan (Emily Ann Urbanski.)  I swoon whenever Dave Ruark is on stage, in any show, but in this show he plays a suave yet down-to-earth entertainment producer (Corp. Ralph Sheldrake) and the swoon factor is even higher than usual.

Catherine Vaughn Mobley is a hoot as the feisty inn manager, especially when she reveals Martha’s past as a belter/sunflower. 

I laughed even as I sympathized with Kenny Shepard’s portrayal of the harried stage manager, Mike Nulty, whom the celebrities have called to Vermont to help them stage their show.  John Vessels is hilarious as Ezekiel, the laconic worker who “came with the barn.”  Sally Scharbrough and Shari Katz are sassy and sexy as chorus flirts Rhoda and Rita, respectively. Deb Wims is convincing in her comedic cameo as Mrs. Snoring Man but I most love to watch her elegant, graceful dancing.  Zander Meisner made me groan with laughter as Jimmy, the stand-up comic host of the nightclub where we first hear the sisters sing. Peter Scharbrough, Adam A. Shaff, and Sara Brophy round out the team admirably (especially during those peppy tap dances that I mentioned earlier.)  We, the audience, do our best to be the crowd of other soldiers at both the beginning and the ending of the show.

There are some wonderful crinolines and two-tone shoes in Brian Horton’s costumes for this show.  The scenic design by Michael Layton, includes a delight of a train set that makes us feel as if we are actually whizzing north to Vermont.  Ryan Koharchik’s nimble lighting design is impressively executed by whoever is staffing the spotlights under stage manager Elizabeth Stark.

Technical director Bill Mollencupp and sound designer Daniel Hesselbrock as usual do their thing so flawlessly that you don’t even think about them.  The little orchestra up in its loft sounds good as usual, too.  Kristy Templet is the conductor and plays keyboard.  Terry Woods is on keyboard, too.  Neil Broeker is on woodwinds; David Coleson is on trumpet; and Tim Kelly is on percussion. 

Billie was my server this time.  She and her assistants did a great job.  The service at Beef and Boards is always just right, so it is worth mentioning in every review.

Audience and Appeal Factors

There is a line from this show that goes something like “Being in the military is like being in show business: they both require big hearts.”  “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” appeals to supporters of both, too.

It is also, as I mentioned earlier, fun and romantic: a classic worth seeing at any time of year.  It is also completely family friendly although I wouldn’t bring little kids.

By the way, the night I went, there were four groups of teens in the audience who were in town for the FFA convention.  They were all well-groomed and polite, which is, of course, true of a lot of teens, in spite of the stereotype, but each group wore its own sort of uniform (white shirts with ties, for example, or special jackets) so I was glad that when Deb Wims and Kenny Shepard gave the curtain talk they also gave some explanation of who the teens were.  Along with announcing the birthdays and anniversaries in the audience Deb and Kenny also invited the visiting teens to cheer for their home states:  Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Montana.  It was a pleasure to have them here.  I couldn’t help grinning, too, when I heard one group of teens singing “White Christmas” again just for fun as they were leaving.

Box Office

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” runs through November 21, 2010 at Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre.  However, media contact Patricia Rettig told me yesterday that your best bet for getting good weekend seats is to go THIS WEEKEND because the November performances are virtually sold out, or to consider a show during the week.  In any case, tickets may be purchased by calling the Box Office at 317-872-9664 between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays.

‘See you at the theatres!

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com and www.twitter.com/IndyTheatre.

(All photos by Julie Curry.  Roll your mouse over the photos for actor credits).

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