BIG OL' HOLIDAY THEATER UPDATE: Because of you people and how much you love to go to good plays, White Christmas has added two performances, one this Sunday evening, December 15, and one on Christmas freakin' Eve!
The setup: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" isn't just the best-selling song ever -- it's the linchpin of two fabulously popular films, 1942's black-and-white Holiday Inn (for which it was first recorded and snagged an Oscar for Best Original Song) and 1954's White Christmas, in glorious Technicolor and high-res VistaVision.
Plot is not the strong suit of either, but they're warm and fuzzy, and the latter was turned into a stage musical in 2004 that's darn near perfect right now at Phoenix Theatre.
The execution: Starting before I even took my seat for this show, I was smacked in the face by successive waves of excellence that combine to make it just heaps of old-fashioned fun. The first tip-off is the cast, in which the chorus -- the chorus! -- is packed with performers such as Lucas Coatney (Rent), Pete Good, Jonathan Furedy (Octopus), and Laurie Trygg, each of whom is entirely capable of carrying a show by themselves.
If you have any doubts that an orchestra led by Alan Ruch can provide the needed support (and you ought not have), the overture, which elicited fervent applause and whooping at opening night, will dispel them. The musicians play tight, hot, and swingin' throughout both acts, and you can feel the singers' and dancers' confidence.
In the absence of triple threats, I would pick fine singers and actors over fine dancers any day for almost any show, but director Michael Bernard and choreographer Kathy Calahan (who danced in White Christmas when it first came to the stage) have churned out a stable of dancing machines. The ensemble executes several nifty precision tap numbers, and Peter Marinaro and Molly Lajoie as cute young couple Phil and Judy are a swoony pair.
The story's about show-business people, which is usually just a cheesy way to wedge in production numbers where they make no sense, but everyone here is so gosh-darn adorable that you wind up thinking that of course they would sing on a train, during a bout of insomnia, and when pissed off at their boyfriends. The necessary complications are provided by a device I can only call deus ex stupidatus, with which you might be familiar if you watch sitcoms: There's a misunderstanding that could be easily resolved, but everyone's so angry they say things like, "Well, if you don't know what you did, I certainly can't hope to explain it to you," and it grows like a snowball until it breaks apart under the impact of love ballads and goodwill.
Joseph Cannon and Valley darling Debby Rosenthal (Ruthless!) are the more mature, Beatrice-and-Benedick-style couple, and their noirish, swanky quasi-duet (because they aren't singing "to" one another) on "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me"/"How Deep Is the Ocean" turns up the romantic heat big time.
Johanna Carlisle (Heddatron, Oedipus for Kids!) plays inn factotum Martha, who is, of course, secretly a retired belter of show-stoppers, which is honestly not anything close to a spoiler. Her presence energizes all her scenes and improves all the tired jokes that are relegated to her character. The verdict: Like a kid at her first circus, I wanted the show to be longer. (That almost never happens nowadays.) I was rewarded with an entire "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" number after the curtain call, so don't rush off.
White Christmas continues through Tuesday, December 24, at 100 East McDowell Road. Tickets start at $30 at this link, or call 602-254-2151.
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