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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 11.25.2009

 

Let the Season Begin

White Christmas at ACE sings in the holiday

by Anna Grace

White Christmas is a string of wonderful songs and big dance numbers held together by a surprisingly satisfying plot. In an unlikely series of events only allowed in big musical extravaganzas of the 1940s and ’50s, audiences watch a retired military hero come to peace with his post-war life, hardened bachelors find love and small town yokels get bitten by the theater bug. It’s a fun play, but it ain’t easy.

Singin’ the grey skies away at ACE

Vocally the show is strong, with actors cornering the tone and inflection of the period. I never thought I’d be saying this of Actors Cabaret, but the production needs more glitz. The stage seems uncommonly dark. Costuming included a lot of sparkly garments, along with some glaring historical inaccuracies: 1983 does not equal 1954. The lack of ease among dancers is something I can only attribute to a healthy fear of falling off the stage; they are so starved for room. 

I don’t mean to suggest that the Cabaret has bitten off more than they can chew, for even if they had, their chutzpah is half the reason we love them. Director Joe Zingo slowly builds the show’s energy until it is positively buzzing by the fifth number. Most performers manage to capture the mid-century glamour essential to this piece. Sophie Mitchell is delightful as Betty Haynes, and Ashley Apelzin charms as her sister Judy. Endearing Carly Walker (Susan) and Kathryn Bowman (Martha “the megaphone” Watson) keep the action kicking.

As song and dance team Wallace and Davis, Tony Coslett and Colin Gray successfully croon their way into audience hearts. Coslett has a particularly nice polish on his character. Ultimately, the biggest challenge of this play are these characters. Because the musical is taken directly from the film, the lead actors are restricted to reproducing the original performance. At his very best, all Coslett can succeed in is doing a good Bing Crosby, which he’s never going to do as well as Bing Crosby, even if he is more likeable. Colin Gray’s Phil Davis is as slick talking and wiley as Danny Kaye’s — but we allowed Danny Kaye to get away with bad jokes and one-dimensional characters. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying it would be unreasonable to expect a mere mortal to say “Va-va-voom” with a straight face. Coslett and Gray turn out fine performances given the confines of the script.

A press release states, “Christmas starts at Actors Cabaret!” Given their long tradition of fun, family-friendly holiday productions, I’d have to agree with this. Tickets to this show would be the very best gift you could give your grandma or favorite ’50s aficianado, so grab your seats and let it snow.

White Christmas runs through Dec. 19th at ACE. Tix at actorscabaret.org or 683-4368.