Merry and Bright
The Shedd returns with a wittier, warmer White Christmas
by Anna Grace
|Shirley Andress and Bill Hulings in White Christmas|
The nights are dark and deep now. It’s cold. Weekends are packed and pockets are filled with unwarranted Diamond parking tickets and long holiday gift lists. But I’m so happy, humming a snappy Christmas song, still a little star-struck and dreamy from my Friday night activities. Yes, I’ve been to the Shedd for my shot of holiday cheer. White Christmas is back and better than ever.
A 2004 musical based on the 1954 film follows the follies of two tuxedoed entertainers as they crack jokes, croon classics and fall in love. Conspiring with their old army buddies, they stage a holiday extravaganza in the barn of a Vermont ski lodge. The boys save their beloved former general from failing as an innkeeper but confuse the sister act they’re attempting to seduce in the process.
This time the Shedd set out to marry the flashy and fabulous film with the more sober script, bringing a penchant for authenticity to this year’s White Christmas.
Director and choreographer Richard H. Jessup kept the sturdy frame from last year’s solid production: the dazzling set, lush costuming and ambitious dance numbers. William Hulings and Shirley Andress remain heart-quickeningly romantic as Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes. Wade Hicks is perfectly cast as the slick-talking Ralph Sheldrake, and audiences actually have to fight the urge to salute Ken McClintock’s General Waverly.
But a gust of fresh air swirls onto the stage in form of Evynne Hollens and Chaz King, taking over the roles of Judy Haynes and Phil Davis. Evenly matched and über-talented, the antics of these two amorists heat up the action, not to mention the dance numbers. Other additions include Liza Clark as Susan, bringing sincerity to the scholarly schoolgirl who gets bitten by the theater bug. Scene-stealing Erica Jean is delightful as Martha. A confluence of adorable children joined the production this year, and it would be nice to see their role broadened and anchored if done in the future. While the music and dancing are as outstanding as last year’s version, this year’s White Christmas cast is more fun, more soulful.
The Shedd’s winter production has already earned a permanent place in the traditions of many in the intergenerational audience. With youth tickets at half price (other theaters, we’re looking reprovingly at you right now), it’s an affordable splurge for family night.
As my over-worked, responsibility-fried friend and I walk from the warm, beautiful Jaqua Concert Hall into the cold air, we are giggling and cheerful, our faces just a touch sore from smiling. White Christmas casts its spell once again and fills us up with hope and wonder for the season to come.
White Christmas runs through Dec. 19 at the Shedd. Tix at theshedd.org or 541-434-7000.