by Beki Pineda

WHITE CHRISTMAS – Music by Irving Berlin; Book by David Ives and Paul Blake; Directed by Alicia K. Meyers. Produced by BDT Stage (5501 Arapahoe, Boulder) through January 8. Tickets available at 303-449-6000 or bdtstage.com.

The 1956 movie WHITE CHRISTMAS is on every “Best Christmas Movie” list ever devised. While some first time viewers today might find it old-fashioned and dated, the underlying themes of loyalty and “family wherever you find it” generally wins them over in the end. The theatrical version, which debuted at my favorite theatre in St. Louis (the Muny) and played all over the country in regional productions, finally made it to Broadway in 2008 for the holiday season.It has continued its popularity with regional audiences ever since, always finishing with the red velvet and white fur costumes from the movie.  So it is no surprise that BDT Stage chose this old favorite for their holiday show this “coming back” year to celebrate the loyalty of their fans and the family they have created with their casts and crews for each new show.

And they pulled out all the stops for this production. Multiple sets that moved the story forward and moved off and on the stage smoothly, including one of the prettiest little gazebo’s ever. The costumes reflecting the style and era in both street clothes, rehearsal clothes, and the dance costumes especially those iconic red and white costumes for the finale. Let’s take a look at the familiar “family members” in this production:  Bob Hoppe returns (after at least six previous shows at BDT – who can forget his Lumiere) for the Bing Crosby role with Matthew Dailey (with at least one previous role at BDT) back off the road as his sidekick Phil. The leading ladies in the production include McKayla Marso-McDonough (two previous productions at BDT and a new mother) as Betty, the Rosemary Clooney role, and Rae Leigh Case putting Vera Ellen to shame as the dancing sister, Judy. Rae started young as a dancer at BDT so has multiple previous roles under her belt. Wayne Kennedy takes to the stage after too long an absence as General Waverly with Anna High (also many shows) returning as the retired singer, Martha Watson. Watching Wayne’s brilliant performance in CHESS in 1991 convinced me I needed to see more shows at BDT.

A special welcome back to the remarkable singers and dancers who make up the ensemble in this show – that rowdy bunch who provide back up  night after night for the leads and seem to be having more fun than anyone:  Lillian Buonocore (you’ll remember her as Belle and Ariel), Alisa Spooner (four previous shows), Brian Cronan (at least three), Tracy Denning (a nine times dancer at BDT), Jessica Hindsley (seven previous shows),  Chas Lederer  (three in the past), Leo Batlle (who also takes on the character of the dance captain/choreographer/stage manager for the show within the show for his third role at BDT) and Abigail Kochevar (several previous roles). Matthew Peters is also dancing in the ensemble (after 30 previous BDT appearances!!)  but deserves special recognition for his choreography for this show. Even the youngest cast members – Prugh Dunfee and Antonina Monsalino who share the role of Susan Waverly on alternate nights – have five previous shows between them. Patrick Case makes his debut in the role of Sheldrake, a Broadway agent, while also dancing in the ensemble along with Piper Arpan who has directed at BDT previously but now takes on the grueling role as Swing dancer for the females in the ensemble. Stephen Turner also returns as Swing for the male members of the ensemble.  This means that they learn the choreography for ALL the dancers and fill in when someone gets ill. The performers, the designers, the builders, the musicians, the crew, the administration – have all pulled together to make this the perfect holiday show.

Special attention must be called to the return of Rae Leigh Case and Matthew Daily who were on the Broadway tour of MISS SAIGON when Covid shut them down over a year ago.  hey bring a polish and ease to their roles as Judy and Phil, the dancing duo of the show. Rae is so tiny and so athletic that all the men in the cast can lift, swing, twirl, throw, and balance her with ease. Between their experience and Matthew Peters inventive choreography, there are spectacular dance after dance numbers in this show. Mr. Peters, of course, knew that a very young Bob Fosse was the uncredited choreographer for the dance numbers in the original movie and honored him with a Fosse-derived “Blue Sky” that will bring you to your feet. While Fosse’s recognizable style had not been fully developed by 1954, it’s so enjoyable to see his work honored in this way. Additional good news is that Matt has decided to stay in Denver for awhile and Rae is “weighing her options” – so we may get to see both of them in future roles along the Front Range.

Bob Hoppe has always had a juvenile appearance which has suited him well; but it’s nice to see that his face has grown up to match his talent. Mckayla Marso-McDonough is just one of the gems of this show; her voice is Broadway quality and her rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” is soulful and heartbreaking. Bob and Matt had just the right level of camaraderie for old Army buddies and for people who have been performing together a long time – a kind of a Martin and Lewis vibe. As did Mykayla and Rae as sisters; they too had just the right level of tolerance for their differences that you could believe they were family, although they don’t look anything alike. Wayne does gruff well and can also bring you to tears with his sincerity and unabashed emotion.  Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” could be Anna High’s theme or legacy song. It had just the right ring of truth, the beautiful breath of belt and a joie de vivre that reflects the woman Anna as well as the character Martha.  Plus she got THE most beautiful dress to wear for the finale in the whole show!! And did I mention, Ally Meyers? The whole shebang wouldn’t have come together without her guiding hand and sure-footed direction. Stepping down from the stage to direct this show, she too brings her experience (dozens and dozens of shows at BDT) to the production.

I always forget to mention the hard working but invisible musicians playing “behind the wall.” These guys too show up night after night to do their job with gratitude and dedication. Hidden behind the wall on the band platform behind stage right, they don’t really get to take a bow, you don’t see them even after the show, and yet there they are – night after night. So thank you to Musical Director Neal Dunfee and his jolly band of Santa players for all the music and memories.

As I said originally, everyone has worked hard and had fun doing it to bring WHITE CHRISTMAS to their loyal band of audience members – a nearly perfect show.

A WOW factor of 9.5!!

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