Sunday, December 12, 2010

P&B's "White Christmas" warms up holiday season

Review by Janet I. Martineau
Pit and Balcony Community gave itself one of the best Christmas presents ever with its decision to hire New Yorker  Mark D. Lingenfelter to direct and choreograph (and we suspect play a major role in the costuming of) “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”
The musical based on the 1954 classic movie starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye ran this weekend just ended and continues into next weekend at the Saginaw theater. Please, treat yourself into seeing it even if you are sick and tired of that film version.
We heap praise on Lingenfelter because, as we see it, when a show succeeds this well in ALL aspects, surely the director played a major, major role more than usual. And he  succeeded because he kept it simple, stupid.
The set is simple. The dance steps are simple. The costuming is simple. The performances are simple. And that is NOT an insult. That is praise. High praise. Too many community theater shows these days get overblown, taxing the actors, the set and costume builders, the theater finances and all at the expense of the show’s story. Lingenfelter knows how to keep it all looking great by not pushing beyond what is possible.
What Lingenfelter also did was cast some of the best singing voices around as well. Dan Taylor, so excellent as the lead in Pit’s “Full Monty,” is superb in the Bing Crosby role -- relaxed and comfortable in the acting part it and unleashing a gorgeous singing voice in the song and dance numbers.
Also superb all around are Scott Warnke in the Danny Kaye role, Brooke M. Peischke in the Rosemary Clooney role, Allison Murray in the Vera Ellen role, Laura Peil  as the inn’s busy-body receptionist with a Kate Smith singing voice, and Kevin Profitt in five character roles (chief among them the dullish inn handyman).
“Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun ” with Peischke, Murray and Peil is a standout vocal number as well as “Sisters” (both the female and male versions) and “Snow,” “Blue Skies” and the title song ensemble numbers.
Oh, and third grader Amelia Sutherland as the granddaughter of the inn’s owner holds her own too in the cast of 17. She’s a sneaky little scene stealer in her first community theater role  -- no surprise since mom, Jan Taylor Sutherland, conducts the excellent orchestra with dad Brian Sutherland playing trumpet.
To all those not mentioned specifically, what is great is that uniformly you are in character and we believe you are your character. They are that comfortable. It helps that their costumes and wigs set the time and place so well, but so too do they.
Unlike the movie, the stage version of this show has more Berlin songs in it and more dance routines. In fact, this cast is kept nimble of foot all over the place. There is ballroom style dancing, tap, semi soft-shoe, a kicking chorus line, moving with fans (as in “Sisters”). 
To give a hint of the costumes, in “I Love a Piano” the lead female dancer  is dressed in a black and white keyboard dress while the rest of the hoofer  are variations of black and white. 
The set is a stationary oversized box with bows, the smallish center of the stage a carved-out half-circle. In that half circle, Lingenfelter changes the scenery behind it in a half dozen or more layers -- a nightclub, a barn, the Vermont mountains with snow on them, the piano scene among them. 
The brief train scene is full of fun props -- old-time snow skis, a sled, old-time suitcases.
And sound, too often a crackling mess at P&B, has everyone coming through crystal clear.
There is also a clever ending -- one which, on Sunday night, was a little less amusing but clever anyway.


  1. The carved out semi-circle was a snow globe.