Christmas has arrived early this year in beautiful downtown Fullerton as FCLO Music Theatre presents the stage adaptation of the 1954 movie classic White Christmas. Those who wonder if that’s jumping the gun a tad have only to visit their neighborhood shopping mall to see that the holiday season is already upon us.  Besides, with Irving Berlin hits like “Blue Skies,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing, “Sisters,” and “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” appropriate for any month of the year, a plot that isn’t all that “Christmas-centric,” and choreography that entertains equally in October or December, White Christmas is an appealing Fall CLO offering.


Director-choreographer Rob Barron has assembled a first-rate cast, musical director Lee Kreter conducts FCLO’s great-sounding twenty-piece orchestra, and an ensemble of up-and-coming musical theater talents kick up their heels in what is likely to be a crowd-pleaser for Fullerton audiences.

For anyone growing up in the pre-VCR era, White Christmas (the movie) was an eagerly awaited holiday TV tradition, and with DVDs viewable year-round, I’d venture to guess that many if not most in the audience will be familiar with its show biz plot. (David Ives and Paul Blake’s book sticks close to the movie’s screenplay by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank.) Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are Army buddies headlining a Christmas show for the troops somewhere in Europe in December of 1944. The event is also a sendoff for retiring Major General Thomas F. Waverly, beloved by his fighting men.  Cut to ten years later, with Bob and Phil having made it big in nightclubs, radio, and TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. A letter from a former army buddy asks them to audition sister act Betty and Judy Haines, which they do, and are suitably impressed even after it turns out that the letter was actually written by Judy.  A series of unexpected mishaps has all four arriving in unseasonably warm Vermont at the Columbia Inn, whose owner turns out to be none other than … General Waverly! In true show biz plot tradition, the Inn is in financial trouble and what better way to get it back in the black again than (can you guess?) put on a show! Further complications ensue—and love blooms in record time for our two heroes with our two heroines.


There are indeed Christmas songs in White Christmas, though not as many as you might think. There’s the title tune (the Academy Award-winning second-best selling single of all time), “Happy Holiday,” and “Snow.”  That’s all. The rest are Berlin standards, including a few not in the movie but added to the stage musical, including “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.” 


A quartet of talented triple-threats bring to life the characters originated on the screen by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Christopher Carothers (Bob) is an ingratiating romantic lead, Dennis Kyle (Phil) a song-and-dance man in the Donald O’Connor tradition, Jennifer Mathews a radiant Betty, and Layne Baker a bubbly charmer as Judy. Becky Saunders shows off her Ethel Merman pipes and precision comic timing in the role created by the inimitable Mary Wickes on screen.  John Herzog does nice work as the General, Sean Riley is a snappy Sheldrake (Bob and Phil’s Army buddy), and Mary Desmond (as Susan, a very 1950s child) exhibits a powerful belt in the reprise of “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy.” Dance captain Erik McEwen is a singing-dancing-acting standout in a variety of roles, and Christopher Spencer gets lots of laughs just by moving at a snail’s pace as Ezekiel.


White Christmas is arugably the danciest show since 42nd Street, with a whole lot of tapping going on, executed with flair by David Borden, Colleen Brown (Tessie), Cindy Burnett (Mrs. Snoring Man), Sarah Errington (Grumpy Lady, Seamstress), Emilee Furmanski, Julianne Jones (Rita, Regency Room Performer), Kurt Jerrard (Scooter), Natalie Rose Kollar (Cigarette Girl), Allison Knight (Regency Room Performer), Kristopher Lahr (Train Conductor), Garrick Goce Macatangay (Regency Room Performer), Hallie Mayer, Emily Moffat (Rhoda, Regency Room Performer), Robert Michael Perkins (Quintet, Mr. Snoring Man, Regency Room Performer), David Raimo (Quintet, Regency Room Performer, Dance Captain [show]), Katy Tang, and Cody Walker (Jimmy, Regency Room Performer).

The production looks great, with sets courtesy of Music Theatre Of Wichita, which also provided the 1950s costumes, designed by Deborah Roberts. Donna Ruzika’s lighting gives just the right Technicolor glow, and A.J. Gonzalez’s sound design is crisp and clear.

It may be a considerable while since Fullerton has experienced a real White Christmas, but residents can now experience one on stage in this stroll down memory lane with Irving Berlin and some of his greatest hits. 

FCLO Music Theatre, Plummer Auditorium, 210 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton. 

–Steven Stanley
October 22, 2009
                                                                                       Photos: Kurt Jarrard

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