“What do you expect when you go for a song and dance man? Nothing but a song and dance.” — Susan Anderson as Martha Watson
With the holiday season comes an inundation of holiday film classics. You know the usual suspects: It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and of course, White Christmas. Well, perhaps of course is a bit of a stretch. I haven’t seen it.
White Christmas was released in 1954 and starred the ever talented Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis. For the three of us who have yet to see the film, here’s a brief rundown: It’s 1944, and our two GIs (Wallace and Davis) are sent home from WWII. Fast forward ten years later, and our duo is showbiz’s numero uno song and dance act on television. Enter Betty and Judy Haynes, and you have a recipe for some Christmas sizzle. Smitten by the sister act, the boys team up with their new love interests to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general by putting on a Christmas concert extraordinaire in a quick five days. With dancing, singing, and music by legendary lyricist and composer, Irving Berlin—you have all the ingredients needed to make a fine film and a spectacular play.
This past week I had the pleasure of taking in the Arts Club’s opening night of its third installment and 100th performance of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical. Performed at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage (formerly the Stanley Theatre), the room is as charming as its name is long—with its gold leaf illuminated dome, and detailed shell decorations. First a movie house in December 1930, the theatre would have a good run of sixty plus years before closing its doors due to lost revenues in 1991. That is, until it reopened on October 28, 1998 to Arts Club audiences.
With good bones on its side, the curtains are drawn, the orchestra plays and the production begins.
Jeffrey Victor’s rendition of Bob Wallace was brilliant. His voice, his style, his mannerisms—all indicative of the quintessential 1950s refined movie star. Not only that, his charm on stage, his fine-tuned characterization, and his song and dance numbers—simply top-notch. Sara-Jeanne Hosie (Betty Haynes) was equally a gem. She sang beautifully and her chemistry with Victor was unmatched. In fact, many of performers were made for musical theatre—Susan Anderson (Martha Watson), Jeremy Lowe (Jimmy), Monique Lund (Judy Haynes)—showcasing their pipes while delivering their lines and a dance number or two. Todd Talbot (Phil Davis) was also a strong lead, although at times overshadowed by Victor’s more period playing. And while the entire cast could clearly belt a number, the mics were a bit too loud, making it almost painful when performers would hit a high note.
In terms of the costumes—flawless. Victor’s vests were gorgeous, beautifully tailored and packed full of punchy patterns. Plus, Lund’s outfits were classic, wearable and form-fitting. The colours, the textures, the fabrics. A big congrats to Sheila White (costume designer).
The set design was spectacular. Not only was it reminiscent of the era and beautifully built, the sets were assembled and disassembled at the drop of a hat. Perfect use of the stage and the quick set changes were brilliant. Kudos to Alison Green (set designer) and the crew.
The dance numbers, while always entertaining, sometimes lacked theatricality. Nitpicky? Perhaps. But having danced for many years, I was looking for more fine tuning and emotion than simply hitting cues. Tighter turns, higher kicks, faster recoveries, and pizzazz. The versatility of a musical theatre performer, though, goes without saying: dancing, singing and acting.
The reprise of Sisters and White Christmas, excellent. Well lit, well costumed, well designed, well sung, and well done. By all means, treat yourself, treat your loved ones. A must see performance for the holidays. And one of my top picks for the week. Go!
And if all goes well this holiday season, I’ll meet a fine singing and dancing man who’ll propose in five days time. After all, doesn’t art imitate life…right? Right. (Laughs.)
The Arts Club’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas the Musical runs until December 28th at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.