By Steve Odenthal
Four Seasons Theatre Company in Smithfield, Utah is striking holiday gold again as they open a grand and yet cozy show, White Christmas, in the Sky View High School auditorium. Watching this show is like kicking your shoes off snug, warm, and cozy in front of a toasty fire in your favorite recliner and Christmas sweater. As nostalgia washes over, you can’t help but feel you’ve been here before—and liked it—even if you have never been to a big-timbered ski lodge in Vermont. That is where most, but not all of this play is set, in a ski lodge and an equally cavernous barn. With no snow. And that is a problem. Skiers on vacation are pretty insistent on snow. What to do? What to do?
In this musical, consisting of seventeen Irving Berlin songs, the obvious answer is to sing. And boy, does this Four Seasons’ cast sing. Top notch voices take us back in time to a simpler place and we go willingly. Captain Bob Wallace (Trenton Bateman) and Private Phil Davis (Jon Rash) lead us from the very start, taking us to a makeshift USO stage where these two are entertaining the troops in Europe on Christmas Eve 1944 with their golden voices providing the entertainment for their comrades in arms. Both Bateman and Rash have the perfect croon-ability to satisfy those of us who remember the movie roles made famous by Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, putting us immediately at ease and right there with them on the front lines of World War II. We are immediately immersed in the emotion as the two soldiers close their performance and the commanding officer, General Henry Waverly (Steven Moore) hands over his command to another as he bids a sternly fond farewell to the men he has led into battle. We learn about duty, love, and loyalty in this simple setting and through a quiver in an otherwise strong-voiced warhorse being put to pasture.
Fast forward 10 years and we find Wallace and Davis at the top of their game, having succeeded on Broadway as a song and dance team. Rash is still playing a bit of a conniver and ladies’ man while his more conservative partner, smooth as silk onstage, is a bit of a plodder in all things romance. That will never do, so once again the younger man tries to align the stars for his older partner. Rash and Bateman’s interplay is so natural that their relationship is immediately defined and accepted. Enter the Haynes sisters –Betty (Julie Allen), and Judy (Emily Erdmann) who immediately catch the eye and imagination of Phil. He eagerly pursues the sister act while his partner, Bob Wallace, plods slowly around the well-voiced sisters. Both Allen and Erdmann are worthy of note as their voices are tailor-made for Berlin’s style and sound. We are with these women as they seek their fortune in the exciting world of show business circa 1954. We want them to succeed as they head to their next small gig—a ski lodge in Vermont for a limited engagement. Through a bit of “working the angles” by Phil and Judy, our Broadway dance team wind up in the same place, the lodge, which has no snow but does have an avalanche of unpaid bills. The place is managed delightfully by Martha Watson (Melissa Hamilton) who fills the auditorium with a belt-it-out greatness to her voice and wins us over immediately with her blunt charm. We also find out that this ski lodge is where the two men’s beloved former commander has invested all his retirement and savings in a losing proposition. So, now our heroes have a quest.
We arrive at the ski lodge in Vermont in a bit of stage/set wizardry by Technical Director (Danny Rash) and Paint Specialist (Nathan Allen) to find twenty-foot wooden beams throughout the humongous structure and realize that, impressive as they now are, they have never left the stage. How do you hide a ski lodge and a cavernous rehearsal barn in plain sight? Ask these guys.
The visuals of this show are amazing, but there is no lack of quality in the sound and lighting department either. Sound Design (Justin Wellington) and Light Design (Chase Cook) make magic happen in an arena that generally gets overlooked unless something goes dramatically wrong. Nothing does. In fact, the whole team including Production Manager (Holly Gunther) and Stage Manager (Anissa Potts) run the show in a way that even General Waverly would be proud of.
The other Principle players in the show (Brady Allen, Emily Mower, Gabby Anderson, Kim Rash, Landon Bauer, Maddie Smith) all hit their stride musically, comically, and most certainly in the varied dance numbers. There were a few subtle but decidedly funny moments delivered throughout the night by characters, Rita (Taylor Regan), Roda (Shanna Hunsaker), and Ralph Sheldrake (Walker McKenna) to lighten the mood now and again.
The ensemble of players (Amber Freestone, Andressa Nye, Brady Allen, Breanna Gunther, Cathy Neeley, Dakota DeWaal, Dirk Anderson, Emily Mower, Hannah Merrill, Jessica Higginbotham, John McVey, Justin Bouck, Kamila Brandley, Kelly White, Kim Rash, Landon Bauer, Maya Simmons, Nathan Jones, Rachel Gunther, Rory Anderson, Shanna Hunsaker, Taessa King, Taylor Regan) rounding out the cast and moving the show along at a pleasing pace consists of talented singers who also demonstrate just the right way to do things on the dance floor. The tap numbers in the show were flawless and enjoyable but the sweet sway and elegance of movement in the show’s quieter moments were my favorites. Yes, the choreography (AnnAlyse Chidester, Katie Packard) provides the perfect touch of nostalgia and time to the show.
White Christmas will pull you in with its simplicity and charm, but the costuming (Kody Rash, Kim Rash) by Four Seasons Theatre Company makes this a spectacular hit for the Holiday Season. This company sets the bar very high with each show they do, but how they use period wardrobe updated with vivid red, green and white Christmas colors is almost a shock. I am old enough to have lived through the introduction to color TV from black and white—this for me was even better. You will be immersed in the festive color, not to the point of needing sunglasses but truly an amazing presentation throughout the entire show.
I am going to leave you there. You know what they say, ‘What happens in Vermont, stays in Vermont.’ Well, that may not be exactly what they were saying in 1954, but you get the gist. You will enjoy this show, whether it be for the masterfully subtle direction of Kody Rash who seems to be able to march his players to a precision-based casual delivery and presence that reaches out to the audience without strain, or the familiar songs of the show (you will recognize them all) that please and soothe us under the watch of Musical Director Afton Furniss, this show is a delight. It is a walk down the path to a simpler time that feels so right. Young audiences and older ones will all find something here. We’ve told you before about family-friendly shows like this one (and really that is all that Four Seasons offers), but you may not have heard a hearty recommendation to bring your Grandma. Now you have.
If you are looking for a wholesome entertainment reminding us that there is good and loyalty in the world, a show that doesn’t require batteries or neon lights, a show that lights up all on its own—this is the show for you. Relive some of the most recognized Holiday songs and memories with such favorites as White Christmas, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep, Happy Holiday, and Blue Skies. Make the drive to Smithfield, Utah and Sky View High School where Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is playing. It will be time well spent. You should be there.
Four Seasons Theatre Company presents White Christmas, the Musical by Irving Berlin, David Ives, and Paul Blake
Sky View High School 520 South 250 East Smithfield, UT 84335
December 1-2, 4, 7-9 7:30 PM
Phone: (435) 535-1432
Tickets $11 – $13
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