By Barbara Anne Kirshner
Phenomenal music, dance, comedy with romance sprinkled on top all wrapped up in a giant red velvet bow, that’s White Christmas, Engeman Theater’s gift to ring in this joyous season.
Last year, the holidays were dismal with theatres shut across our great nation due to COVID, but not even a sweeping pandemic could extinguish its spirit for long. Theater fought back, reigniting marques with brilliant neon lights announcing that the show would most certainly go on.
The Engeman proudly swung open its grand glass doors welcoming all who enter to enjoy the magic of live theatre once more and to celebrate the holidays it is treating audiences to an irresistible White Christmas. With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and book by David Ives and Paul Blake, this musical is based on the much loved 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. The first stage adaptation did not happen until 2004 when it premiered in San Francisco before playing a limited engagement on Broadway from Nov. 14, 2008, until Jan. 4, 2009.
The story revolves around two former WWII army buddies Bob Wallace and Phil Davis who, after the war, become successful entertainers, then big time producers. They get a letter presumably from an army buddy asking them to check out his sisters’ act at a local club. Sparks fly when they meet these sisters who are leaving that night for a Vermont Inn to fulfill a booking engagement. In pursuit of romance, Bob and Phil follow the ladies and discover that their former general who now owns this inn has fallen on hard times. The plot proceeds with mad cap comedy and extraordinary musical numbers.
With producing artistic director, Richard Dolce and managing director Kevin J. O’Neill at the helm, the Engeman is dedicated to creating Broadway caliber experiences for their audiences and White Christmas is professionalism at its very best.
This multi-talented ensemble is captivating. From the rollicking open numbers of Happy Holidays and White Christmas, Aaron Young as Bob Wallace and Daniel Plimpton as Phil Davis grasp us and never let go. Young’s voice richly floats through his every song while his stage presence is beguiling. Davis is a true song and dance man. The I Love a Piano duet featuring Darien Crago as Judy Hayes, is a tour de force tap number. Crago’s skill and energy mesmerizes in all her dance routines, making them appear effortless. Meadow Nguy as Betty Haynes soaring soprano sends chills especially in Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.
Rounding out this ensemble is an impressive supporting cast. Keith Lee Grant is riveting as the stern General Henry Waverly shouting out commands until he reaches a moment of reflection that allows the caring man within to materialize. Suzanne Mason as Martha Watson sporting red curls reminiscent of Lucille Ball and impeccable comedic timing takes center stage belting out Let Me Sing and I’m Happy and nearly stops the show. The general’s granddaughter, Susan Waverly, played by AnnaBelle Deaner, mimics Martha with a rousing reprise of the same song.
Director Matt Kunkel has created sheer perfection taking us on a memorable musical journey of sight and sound. Music Director Camille Johnson maintains energetic fluidity from start to finish with a band that is beautifully synchronized to the performers in every number.
Choreography is central to this show and Drew Humphrey’s lively routines from the tap numbers to a chorus line done with the precision of the Rockettes is outstanding. Sound design is essential in a musical and Laura Shubert has the levels just right.
This is a period piece musical therefore costumes must allow for ease of movement while reflecting the 1950’s era and Dustin Cross has created breathtaking silhouettes most notably the dreamy coats decorated with clouds in Blue Skies, the dazzling black and white ensembles in I Love a Piano with Judy’s belt that unwinds into piano keys and all those stunning red confections in the White Christmas and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm finale. Hair design is another essential element in a period piece and Conor Donnelly’s 1950’s hairstyles look authentic.
Kyle Dixon’s scenic design sets the tone and is functional as it morphs easily from one scene into the next giving the continuous feel of the magical holiday season by emphasizing reds, greens and whites. Dixon’s giant frames of white bark against green matting outlines the set and emphasizes a rural feel for the Vermont Inn. Aaron Bowersox’s lighting design adds brilliance to the big numbers and subtle touches for gentler moments.
White Christmas is a must-see festive treat for the entire family so ring in the holidays with this spectacular musical now through January 2, 2022. And be sure to return for the rest of their 2021-2022 season of exciting shows.
The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main Street in Northport. Tickets to the show range from $75 to $80 with free valet parking. To order, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.