Friday, December 2, 2011

REVIEW: Manatee Players' ‘White Christmas’ is a merry stroll down memory lane

PAUL VIDELA/pvidela@bradenton.com From left: Michael DeMocko as Phil Davis, Geena M. Ravella as Judy Haynes, Jessica Anne Morrow as Betty Haynes and Greg Wiegers as Bob Wallace in the Manatee Players production of “Irving Berlin's White Christmas.”

“White Christmas” has been warming hearts during the holidays for more than a half century. Bing Crosby’s Bob Wallace, Danny Kaye’ Phil Davis, Rosemary Clooney’s Betty Haynes and Vera-Ellen’s Judy Haynes are some of the most memorable characters in Hollywood history.

The stage version, titled “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” has been around less than a decade. Despite having those huge stars looming over it, the Manatee Players’ production is a fun stroll down memory lane.

The plot, as expected, closely follows the movie. Bob Wallace (Greg Wiegers) and Phil Davis (Michael DeMocko) are a top Broadway song-and-dance duo that served in the army together during World War II. Bob’s leery about romance and Phil’s a skirt-chaser. The two soon have a change of heart, though, when they meet the singing sister act of Betty (Jessica Anne Morrow) and Judy (Geena M. Ravella) Haynes.

The guys follow the gals to a Vermont lodge where the sister act is scheduled to perform during the holidays. Typical romantic highs and lows occur as Bob finally falls for Betty and Phil pledges his love to Judy.

Meanwhile, the fellows learn that the ski lodge is run by their former commanding officer, Gen. Henry Waverly (Phil Croome). Business is hurting and the lack of snow makes matters worse.
Bob and Phil decide to enlist the support of their entertainment connections, including those who served in the general's unit and turn the barnyard show into a big bash. Of course it snows just in time for the skiers and the title song.

Despite the largely timeworn material, director/choreographer Rick Kerby keeps things moving at a brisk pace. He also did a fine job of casting. The actors smartly honor the famed originators rather than ape them.

Wiegers has a voice that doesn’t make you long for Crosby’s — no easy fete — and he shines on numerous numbers including the title track and the stage-version bonus “Blue Skies.” DeMocko’s acting is perhaps a bit over-the-top but his singing and dancing chops make up for it. Morrow and Ravella do the most to create the essential romantic chemistry between the respective couples. They’re skilled vocalists, as well, crushing with a smile-inducing “Sisters.”

The performances are strong throughout, which is commendable at any time of the year but especially this month. These actors are not only working for free but are likely missing out on numerous family gatherings so they can spread some holiday cheer well worth witnessing.

Details: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Dec. 1-23, Riverfront Theatre, 102 Old Main St., Bradenton. Tickets: $25/$11 (students) Information: 941-748-5875 or www.manateeplayers.com.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

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