by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom
OPTC and The Tom Nehl Fund of The Community Foundation are presenting Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” on stage till December 22nd in Orange Park. Call (904) 276-2599 or see opct.org for information and reservations. If you want to enjoy a wonderful warm and festive evening of Christmas sentimentality than by all means don’t miss this production, and, of course, take the kids. They will love it.
This musical debuted in 2004 and was inspired by the movie “Holiday Inn” which originally came out in 1942 with Bing Crosby and then was remade in 1954 with a more sophisticated storyline and again Mr. Crosby in the lead. The movie makes it to television every year about Christmas time. While all three versions include Irving Berlin’s Oscar winning song “White Christmas,” the musical is much better than the films because of the addition of even more of those great songs by Irving Berlin: “How Deep is the Ocean?” “Blue Skies,” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”
This is the first community theatre production in our local area in the almost ten-year history of “White Christmas.” You ask why? Well, for a couple of reasons. First, it is very seasonal, and would not be a choice for time frames outside December during the holiday season. Second, although the plot is relatively simple, staging it is not. This two-act musical requires eighteen scenes changes!
Previous to the opening of the first act, a youth choir directed by TIM DeBORDE sang several Christmas songs while dressed in holiday attire. This was a great warm up for what was to come.
Orange Park Theatre has done a tremendous job creating all the sets necessary, and Kudos to Co-Directors CONNIE SENKOWSKI & VICKI LOWE as well as Assistant Director KURT McCALL, for the set designs and assembling a very dedicated and capable cast to make this a delightful evening of theatre.
Orange Park’s Theatre was once a small church and as such has no wings, the area immediately offstage left and right where furniture and set pieces can be kept until they are needed. The dozens of items, like chairs, tables, and flats, have to be brought in from the back of the theatre. Stage Manager APRIL BURKE kept all this high-intensity activity running along smoothly. What made this production fun was watching the set changes take place in dim light but right in front of the audience. In talking with several audience members at intermission, they were quite impressed by the efficiency of the cast and backstage crews.
The plot concerns two well known song-and-dance men who boost the popularity of a Vermont winter resort run by their former Army commander, General Waverly (TIM ABRAMS). As excellently portrayed by DAVE PHILIPS as Bob Wallace and BRYAN BOYTEK, JR as Phil Davis, they sing and dance and romance the two sisters who were responsible for getting them to Vermont at Christmas time. MICHELLE NUGENT MUNLEY as Betty Haynes, and OLIVIA LOUCKS as her sister Judy, are two gorgeous and talented gals who are trying to make it in show business but get romantically involved with Bob and Phil.
Ms. Munley teaches voice and is raising a family but The Dual Critics remember her professional career in musical theatre and in fact recall when we reviewed her performances at the Mark Two Dinner Theatre in Orlando. We last saw Mr. Philips in “State Fair” at OPTC. These two are romantically linked in this show and perform excellent duets.
We recall Ms. Loucks as well from “State Fair” and “ Brigadoon,” and since then she has obtained a degree in musical theatre from UCF and is about to embark on a professional career. Mr. Boytek has been dancing professionally on Carnival Cruise Lines and is now an instructor in dance at local studios.
SALLY DEBORDE as Martha Watson is the lodge concierge and provides a lot of the humor in the show while trying to support the cash-strapped lodge owner, with whom she is secretly in love. She belts out the very comical song, “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
PRANITI KUDRE plays Susan Waverly, the owner’s thirteen-year-old visiting granddaughter, who really gets to show off her vocal talents in Act II with a rousing reprise of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
One of the funniest moments in Act II was during the Ed Sullivan Show segment, when ERIKA FUENTES and BRIANNA WILSON danced out during a commercial as boxes of Oxydol, a popular laundry detergent years ago.
Besides all the lovely Berlin music, this is a splendid dance show, and Choreographers MELISSA LOSURE and BRYAN BOYLEK, JR. created interesting dances using the entire stage area. We especially liked the sensational “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing,” “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano.”
Music Director BRENDA COHN, working hand in hand with the orchestra members, CHARLIE MANN, HEATHER BAERGA, NICK DESPRES AND DEMITRY GLOVER, fully captured the richness of Berlin’s music.
During the intermission we asked the Directors how many costumes were in the show but they had been so busy with all the other details they had not counted. The Costume Team, SANDY SUMMERTON, LINDA BLAIR, and REGINA MANNING, certainly deserve a round of applause, for the colorful creations and all the Army outfits that added vintage authenticity.
Rounding out this large cast and in some cases playing two or three parts at various times were: TOM DeBORDE, JIM WARREN, KELLY WEAVER, KURT McCALL, KELLY WEAVER, JESSICA HARRIS, JEREMY FERRI, DAN SENKOWSKI, STEVE COHN, SHELLEY HAYES, MANDY SAD, HOPE RENDELL, NATASHA LOWE, JAMES McGRIFF, ANDREW PENTECOST, SCARLETTE JOHNSON, LISA COUGHLIN, FAITH-ANN JOHNSON, HOPE STARR, OLIVA DAVIS, DANIELLE SUMMERTON, ALEC ANDERSON and AMELIA EILEEN MUNLEY.
OPCT is totally run by volunteers, without paid staff, and they have been doing this for the past forty-forty years! Congratulations on a marvelous production of a very timely show. It has been an endeavor with a monumental commitment by many people who obviously love theatre.
We recommend you make reservations quickly as this is a very popular show and tickets, priced at $20.00, are going fast. Of note, the theatre has assistive hearing devices available. Merry Christmas, and don’t miss this show!
WHITE CHRISTMAS, The Musical
by Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom