All the right elements seem to be present for a rousing and heartwarming production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at Crown Uptown Theatre, but they didn’t quite come together into a cohesive whole on opening night.
The orchestra seemed cold and tentative for a lot of the overture, particularly horn elements, and then was occasionally too loud, covering up singers. The ensemble dancers each displayed skills with Gigi Gans’ colorful choreography, but they weren’t quite in step together.
Leading man Nick Madson has a beautiful tenor voice, but he was a little soft and almost overshadowed by the accompaniment more than a few times. There needed to be a better sound level balance.
The good news is that there are no fatal flaws in the show, just the need for a little more refining and tweaking. Opening night amounted to a good dress rehearsal.
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Directed by Matthew Rumsey, Crown’s producing artistic director, this 2008 Broadway stage homage to the classic 1954 movie with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen is back for the third year in a row as sort of a holiday tradition. Its encore has special meaning because it was the show that launched the reopening of Crown Uptown under new ownership and management in 2011.
Reprising their roles from the 2011 show are guest artists Madson in the Crosby role as song-and-dance man Bob Wallace and Trish Epperson in the Clooney role as Betty Haynes, half of a sister act. The two are the classic love-at-first-fight lovebirds who eventually discover that they are perfect for each other once they let their guards down.
Madson is a smooth performer and graceful dancer who makes his accomplished moves look casual and easy. His lyrical tenor is just right for lovely ballads like “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and “How Deep Is the Ocean.”
Epperson has a powerful and beautiful soprano that can be playful when cavorting in duet for “Sisters” and can break your heart with the torchy “Love, You Don’t Do Right By Me.”
Joe Consiglio, a Wichita State graduating senior bumped from the chorus only days before opening to move into a lead role as Phil Davis, Bob’s best buddy and dancing partner, is energetic and irrepressible. He gives that extra oomph and flair to his dancing and has a mile-wide smile that never dims. He’s a brash goofball who seems perpetually poised to go over the top.
Brittney Morton, last seen as Jo in Crown’s “Little Women,” is a wise-cracking, would-be femme fatale with a strong, colorful, comfortable voice as Judy, Betty’s younger sister, who doesn’t need quite as much chaperoning as her sister imagines. Morton shines as the sexy girl-next-door when paired with Consiglio for “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” and “I Love a Piano.” By design, Judy and Phil are supposed to play second fiddle to Bob and Betty, but Morton and Consiglio don’t quite let that happen.
The real scene stealers, however, are Stephanie Dennis as Martha, the concierge of a failing Vermont ski lodge that the four lead performers throw a benefit show to save, and Brianna Bombardier as Susan, the precocious 12-year-old granddaughter of the lodge’s owner.
Dennis comes on strong like Ethel Merman crossed with Lucille Ball – even to her flaming red hair – for “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” Her voice is rich, resonant, brassy and, well, loud. When she’s in action, everybody else fades into the background.
The same thing happens on a mini-scale with young Bombardier, who reprises “Let Me Sing” as Martha’s sort of protege. That girl has some pipes.
While not showcased as a singer, Ken Gale as the lodge’s owner, a former World War II general, provides the emotional heart for the show in a couple of monologues about sacrifice, family and the promise of the holiday season. Gale, who is a local federal judge in real life as well as a sometime composer and performer, is the right combination of fatherly warmth and quiet authority to make the message stick.