November 18, 2012 in City, Features

Theater review: ‘White Christmas’ sets holiday tone

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

Kathie Doyle-Lipe, center, gives advice to sisters, played by Andrea Dawson, left, and Ashley Cooper, in Spokane Civic Theatre’s production of “White Christmas,” which opens tonight.
(Full-size photo)

If you go

“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” reviewed Friday, continues through Dec. 21 at Spokane Civic Theatre.

Tickets: (509) 325-2507 or TicketsWest outlets, (800) 325-SEAT.

Just in time for a gray Thanksgiving, Spokane Civic Theatre is giving fans a “White Christmas.”

The company has revived its sold-out production of the holiday chestnut from two years ago, with two key performers – Andrea Dawson and Kathy Doyle-Lipe – reprising their roles.

The story, a classic “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” tale, centers on former soldiers rallying around their general, whose Vermont inn is failing. It’s based on a 1954 film starring Spokane’s hometown hero, Bing Crosby, and the song he made famous.

Given all this, the new Civic production should be a slam dunk. And for the most part, it is.

Featuring four talented leads – the returning Dawson as Betty Haynes (the Rosemary Clooney role), Michael Muzatko as Bob Wallace (the Crosby part), Mark Pleasant as Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) and Ashley Cooper as Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen) – “White Christmas” features enough song and dance and comedy to keep audiences happy.

It takes a while to find its footing, though. We start off in 1944 Europe, as Bob and Phil are entertaining fellow soldiers on Christmas Eve. This is the first chance to hear Muzatko sing “White Christmas,” and he handles it well.

Flash forward 10 years, and Bob and Phil are stars, fresh off an appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They’re headed to Miami for the holidays to rehearse their new show. But first, Davis proposes, they should check out this sister act, Judy and Betty Haynes, whose brother served with them in the Army.

Phil and Judy hit it off instantly. Betty and Bob? Not so much. Their dislike is improbable, if only because it feels so forced, manufactured to serve the plot. We have no doubt these two will fall hard for each other in the end. It’s a minor quibble, but it’s one of the things that keeps the early stages of Act I from jelling. It’s not until Phil and Judy conspire to get Bob in Vermont, where the Haynes sisters have a gig booked, that “White Christmas” kicks into gear. The ensemble performance of “Snow” on a Vermont-bound train brings some needed energy to the production, and the energy doesn’t flag from there.

Once in Vermont, the story moves at a good clip. We find General Waverly (Wes Deitrick) running his inn military-style, to disastrous effect. We meet his concierge, Martha Watson (Doyle-Lipe), a spark plug of a woman who flopped on Broadway, sings like a bullfrog and tap dances like a champ. As comic relief, Doyle-Lipe is a pro. Watching her scurry across the stage in too-high heels is a lesson in comedic timing and physics.

Act II opens with “I Love a Piano,” a duet that lets Pleasant and Cooper show off their singing talents and fancy footwork. Young Marlena Mizzoni, as the general’s granddaughter Susan, is appropriately precocious and demonstrates her singing voice in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” The rest of the evening is typical of the genre: miscommunication, misunderstanding with, ultimately, a happy ending.

As the evening comes to a close, and the snow begins to fall on Vermont, Muzatko leads the cast in a reprise of “White Christmas.” I’ll admit to being a little irritated by the invitation from the stage for the audience to sing along – I came to hear the actors on stage, not the guy sitting behind me warbling off-key. Still, Civic’s “White Christmas” makes for an enjoyable and festive night at the theater.

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