Theater Review: MunOpCo ‘White Christmas’ stylish, faithful
If you are dreaming of having a white Christmas this month, your best bet is MunOpCo Music Theatre’s stylish rendition of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas: The Musical,” on stage through Dec. 10 at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Allentown. The play is based on the 1954 holiday classic movie of the same name, which in turn, was named for the Academy Award-winning hit song featured in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn” starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
The song and the musical “White Christmas” evoke cherished holiday traditions of love, togetherness, glistening winter treetops and sleigh bells in the snow, all treasured images during and after World War II. In addition to the title song, Berlin’s inspired music and lyrics include seasonal favorites “Happy Holidays,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and “Snow.”
The plot begins on a battlefield on the Western Front near the end of the World War II, and introduces the main characters of Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, Army sidekicks turned popular song and dance partners. Kurt Carlson as Bob has a natural acting style that is warm and engaging. He is also an accomplished singer, as is Brian Jones, who plays Phil.
When the male leads meet up with one of the Haynes Sisters, there’s an immediate attraction, but there’s a rocky road ahead. Elizabeth Marsh-Gilkeson portrays the non-dancing sister Betty as vulnerable and easily hurt. Her rendition of the torch song, “Love You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is beautifully sung and emotionally-touching.
Judy the dancing sister is well-played by Sherilyn Jones with just the right amount of perkiness.
Betty and Judy’s duet “Sisters” in Act I is a winner, and Bob and Phil’s impersonation of the girls singing the duet, complete with fans, is very funny.
John Bracali gives one of the best, most consistent performances as innkeeper General Waverly. Susan McDermott is witty and appropriately bossy as the busybody housekeeper Martha. She also can belt out a song, holding one ending note so long the audience applauded.
At the risk of being a Grinch, however, there are also some shortcomings that need mentioning.
At the matinee performance Dec. 3, seen for this review, the dance number, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” with Phil and Judy and the ensemble, really wasn’t the best thing. The dancers were hesitant and the choreography was awkward and overly-repetitive. Fortunately, things improved substantially when the dancers got out of the ballroom and into tap shoes.
Bret Olivera’s set design is functional, but inadequate in the ballroom scene where the performers seem swallowed up by the huge stage. Once the scenes changed to the inn and its barn, the problem was solved.
Director Rody Gilkeson has mounted a very commendable production of “White Christmas” that stays faithful to the look and feel of the post-war era, and the cast and ensembles work hard to preserve the script’s joyous holiday spirit.
Tickets: at the door, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 1533 Hamilton St, Allentown; munopco.org; Munopco.firstname.lastname@example.org; 610-437-2441