Dreaming of a 'White Christmas'

"White Christmas," the holiday presentation at Camelot Theatre Co., is a joyously vibrant and sweetly sentimental homage to all the great Hollywood musicals of the '30s, '40s and '50s.

It's got a little bit of everything — rousing dance numbers with toe-tapping chorus girls, a pair of lovers resisting their attraction, sassy repartee — all combined with gleeful "let's put on a show" enthusiasm. Camelot Theatre and director Livia Genise manage to bring this all off with professional polish.

The original "White Christmas" was a 1954 movie with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen. It was a sentimental tale then, written by David Ives and Paul Blake, and strung together with songs by the incomparable Irving Berlin. A stage play was fashioned from the material in 2004, cutting out some extraneous plot developments but keeping in all of the music, plus some additional Berlin tunes.

The story is pretty straightforward. Two soldiers have gone from an impromptu Christmas show at the European front in 1944 to become a successful comedy and singing duo, playing the Ed Sullivan show in 1954. They become professionally and emotionally involved with two singing sisters. They follow the girls to Vermont and discover that they are booked at a failing inn owned by their former commanding general. The guys and gals, along with a troupe of Broadway hoofers, all pitch in to put on a Christmas Eve show to save the place.

"White Christmas" is packed with oldie-goldie Irving Berlin classics like "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings," "Happy Holiday," "How Deep is the Ocean," "Blue Skies" and, of course, "White Christmas," with an unexpected gift of the curtain call number "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." And the audience is encouraged to sing along.

But the real charm of this "White Christmas" is in Camelot's casting.

There is a story here. Five days prior to the show's opening, director Genise had a crisis of her own worthy of any Hollywood plot line. One of her leads, the actor playing "Bob Wallace" (the Bing Crosby role) had to drop out for personal reasons. Fortunately, his understudy, Jonathan Andrew Oles, was well-prepared and, with a few costume adjustments, took over without missing a dance beat. He is perfect for the role with a pleasing voice, graceful moves and a sweetly self-deprecating demeanor.

His wisecracking sidekick Phil Davis (the Danny Kaye role) is played by Michael Maisonneuve. Maisonneuve is an accomplished song-and-dance man with an impish face and he does the part proud.

Rebecca K. Campbell and Tai Sammons play the two sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes.

Campbell (in the Rosemary Clooney role) has a superb voice and a charming stage presence. She also contributed the excellent and intricate choreography for the dance numbers (with the exception of "I Love a Piano," which was choreographed by her assistant, Renée Hewitt).

Sammons is great as the sassy Judy and her star-turn musical numbers with Maisonneuve are simply wonderful.

Camelot veteran Gwen Overland has a funny role as a former Broadway performer, an Ethel Merman wannabe, who now manages the inn and the retired general. She has her own show-stopper in "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy."

Also effective are Jack Seybold as the general, Caitlin Rae Campbell as his granddaughter Susan, Peter Wickliffe as Sheldrake, a former army buddy turned Ed Sullivan producer, Tim Kelly as a laconic Vermonter, and, especially, Casey Faubion as the harried stage manager.

I am not sure how Camelot does it but I am always amazed at the production values this company achieves in their limited "former feed store" venue. "White Christmas" seems to have a full orchestra — hidden behind a curtain on stage — with excellent music direction by Mark Reppert. Simplified sets are designed by Donald Zastoupil and video projections are by Brian O'Connor.

The costumes were designed by Julie Harter and I have no idea how Camelot managed to come up with so many stylish chorus changes.

This is the last Christmas show in Camelot's present theater. Genise, who also is artistic director for the theater, has announced that performances are nearly sold out through Christmas and noted pre-performance that the show's run has been extended through Jan. 9.

For more information, call Camelot Theatre Co. at 541-535-5250.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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