If you’re looking for something to get you in the holiday mood, Tacoma Musical Playhouse has just the ticket, with a dynamic and colorful production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” The classic cinematic musical contains a sumptuous love story gift wrapped in tunes that tap a rich vein of Christmas nostalgia.
The original 1954 movie starred Tacoma’s own Bing Crosby as well as Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Despite “White Christmas’” status as a perennial favorite, it was not until 2004 that is was adapted for stage.
“White Christmas” is the story of two WWII soldiers that become Broadway performers and producers after the war. Following two singing sisters to a gig in Vermont, where the men’s former commanding officer runs a lodge, they end up finding love and putting on a show in order to help the general, whose lodge is having financial trouble due to a lack of snow.
TMP’s production is directed by Harry Turpin, a bigwig in the Seattle theater scene.
In addition to its being great holiday entertainment, TMP’s “White Christmas” is an unveiling of the phenomenal talent of Kaitlyn Terrill Rose, who stars in the lead role of Betty Haynes. Rose has a rich, wide-ranging and expressive voice that makes each of her songs a passage of sweet delight. Her vocal sensitivity is matched by her acting ability. Her eyes can sparkle with palpable emotion. Her body language tells the whole story of the love, heartache and reconciliation that her character Betty goes through.
The emotional high point of the show is Rose’s performance in the Regency Room scene. In an elegant lounge setting, she performs a sublime rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” Her voice is husky and lush as she exudes broken hearted pathos.
Tasha Smith, who plays Betty’s sister Judy Haynes, is a familiar face to regulars in the TMP audience. She’s as cute as the proverbial June bug in a tin dipper and is gifted with a strong singing voice that flows like honey.
The leading men, Jake Atwood as Phil Davis and Josh Wingerter as Bob Wallace, are adequate to the task. They are outmatched, however, by their female opposites. Lately, Atwood seems to take the leading role in just about every show that TMP makes, bringing a charismatic charm to his glowing performances.
Wingerter, who has the Bing Crosby part, cuts a suave and amiable figure and does his part to make the love scenes between Bob and Betty reach the heart of the audience.
Makenna Kelpman, as General Waverly’s granddaughter Susan, has several show-stealing moments, such has her big song and dance rendition of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” which conjures up images of Shirley Temple. The part of Susan is shared with Olivia Burns, whom I did not see.
Local favorite Gray J. Chambers takes on the role of General Waverly, a wet blanket of a character compared to the rendition of General Stanley that Chambers did last year in the Lakewood Playhouse production of “Pirates of Penzance.”
Madison Ripley, who happens to be Wingerter’s niece, is something of a show stealer. She is a sensual dancer and performer in her role as Rita. She is also the production’s assistant dance captain and the understudy for Judy. She made an appearance in TMP’s production of “Newsies” earlier this season. Ripley has the complete package of great performing talent and good looks that gives her potential star power.
Another standout dancer in the ensemble is Deshanna Brown, who has been performing in the arts since she was eight years old.
One of my favorite features of almost any TMP production is that it is always a vivid visual experience, with brilliantly colorful costumes and backdrops that make every scene a painting set in motion. In “White Christmas,” Janet English’s costume designs are as refreshing as a cool breeze. English has a fearless color sense that I always admire.
I’ve noticed that TMP seems to be working the art of tap dance more and more into its choreography. Ensemble tap dancing is a double-edged sword. When the dancers are in unison, the effect is thrilling. When the dancers are out of sync, however, it feels disconcerting. The TMP cast gets a B+. When they nailed it, a thrill ran through the audience. There were times, however, in which they were a little off; close enough that you got a tantalizing hint of how good it could be, but not quite hitting the nail square on the head.
Overall, this play is full of magical moments. Rich, emotional scenes are interspersed with comic relief. Intimate scenes often well up into full scale song and dance routines that end in a scenic tableau. And there are so many classic Irving Berlin songs to enjoy: “Snow,” “Blue Skies” and “White Christmas” being my personal favorites. The latter comes with a delightful surprise for the audience at the close of the show.
If TMP’s production “White Christmas” doesn’t get you in the holiday spirit, you might need to go have your hum bug levels checked.
The show runs through Dec. 16. For tickets, schedules and information, visit www.tmp.org.