As part of their mission to make acting and musical performance available to young people, Playhouse on the Green, a non-profit theater company in Bridgeport, has formed a group called the “Park City Players” consisting of area high school students. Last night I attended their rousing inaugural production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and found that like the seasonal Broadway show, White Christmas is a wonderful way for Bridgeport area audiences to celebrate the holiday season.
Like the 1954 movie, White Christmas tells the story of GI buddies who go on to fame as Broadway performers and end up in Vermont, helping out their former general whose inn has fallen under hard times due to a lack of snow. The play has most of the classic musical numbers from the movie, with expanded and additional music by Irving Berlin, including “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” “How Deep is the Ocean,” “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” and “Falling Out of Love Can be Fun.” Minor roles from the movie have also been expanded, so that the characters of Martha Watson and Susan Waverly are even more integral to the storyline and have musical numbers of their own.
What makes this production of White Christmas so much fun is the young cast's enthusiasm and spirit. As with most high school shows, the performances are a bit uneven, but there are quite a few standouts among the players. John Corraro and Max Rein star as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, and work well together as a team. Kelsey Guggenheim and Emily Lessard also have starring turns as Betty and Judy Haines. Emily seems at ease on the stage, whether singing, dancing, or delivering her comedic lines. Her natural grace and stage presence are notable among some of the less experienced cast members. Sasha Kawakami and Michael Ell also stand out as Susan Waverly and Ezekiel Foster, delivering surprising and memorable performances.
The breakout performance of the night belonged to Kathryn Langham as Martha Watson. Kathryn is perfect for the role of the sarcastic, busybody housekeeper with the biting tongue and sharp wit. Her comedic timing and delivery are impeccable and her singing voice is like that of a young Ethel Merman. I thoroughly enjoyed her numbers, especially “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” which is one of my favorite Irving Berlin tunes.
I also have to commend musical director Stephanie Gaumer and choreographer Scott Sisbarro, who both did a fine job in getting these modern teens to adopt the singing and dancing style of the 1940’s and 1950’s. I especially liked the song “Snow,” which featured the entire ensemble singing. The partnership styles of the Haynes Sisters in the song “Sisters” and Bob and Phil singing and dancing to “Happy Holidays/Let Yourself Go” and their reprise of “Sisters” were also highly entertaining.
Of course the signature song is “White Christmas” which is delivered with the same moving punch as in the movie. The audience is even asked to join in the song as “snow” falls in the theater. It is a heartwarming ending to a thoroughly enjoyable show.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas only runs until Sunday, December 13, so you’ll have to get your tickets fast. Hopefully, this will become a yearly event for Playhouse patrons. To get your tickets, visit the Playhouse on the Green website or call the box office at 866-811-4111.