Christmas finery already adorns several downtown shops but Cleburne’s Yuletide season kicked off in earnest Friday night with Plaza Theatre Co.’s staging of “White Christmas The Musical,” which runs through Dec. 23.
I looked forward to opening night given that, although both the play and 1954 Bing Crosby movie adaptation have long since become evergreens on par with Santa and Christmas carols, I’d yet to have seen either past a few minutes of the film once or twice. It’s with a holiday cheer filled heart I report that Plaza’s take on the tale doesn’t disappoint, thrills even.
Although the source material both is and isn’t strictly Christmas centric, the story remains engaging throughout and, for those of certain age, delivers a blast of holidays past nostalgia, and perhaps quora in others. Which, case you’re wondering, is a Welsh word describing longing for something one has never actually experienced but wishes they did.
The story, in a nutshell, opens on Christmas Eve 1944 in an Army camp somewhere in Europe as buddies and singing duo Bob Wallace (JaceSon Barrus, who also directs) and Phil Davis (Evan Beggs) join their fellow soldiers in a run through of two Christmas carols much to the chagrin of gruff albeit kindhearted Gen. Henry Waverly (Jay Lewis). Scene II jumps a decade forward to Bob and Phil sporting lamé sports coats several years before Elvis Presley got the same idea while performing on Ed Sullivan’s “really big shew,” which comes complete with an Oxydol commercial.
Bob and Phil meet sister act Betty Haynes (Meredith Browning) and Judy Haynes (Stephanie Cessna). Awkwardness blooms between Bob and Betty — “I happen to be single without any children,” Betty chirps at one point. “Which is to say I don’t have any to speak of.” Stilted formality between the two soon gives way to love unrequited. Various machinations divert the foursome from Florida to a Vermont inn run by none other than Gen. Waverly assisted by his brash right-hand woman Martha Watson (Emily Warwick).
The inn is failing. No snow is falling. Bob and Betty’s situation grows ever more convoluted and screwball by the minute. Can Bob,Phil and company save the day? Will Bob and Betty find happily ever after? Will the white Christmas so hoped for come to pass?
Well, as Beatle John once said (sang actually), “I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party,” so I’ll go ahead and let you the reader buy a ticket and find out.
Credit the large cast for their top vocal performances throughout including spot on harmony interplay on several numbers. The songs, like the play itself, are both Christmassy in parts and not so much in others. Still, good music is good music and those coming to the play for the first time may well be surprised by how many of the songs they recognize. Many have long since entered the realm of standards and all deliver a genre kaleidoscope of prime pre-rock ‘n’ roll era pop. “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” for instance, comes off pure Cab Calloway musically at least channeling the spirit of “Minnie the Moocher.” Otherwise, the show stopper quality of virtually every number renders it difficult to pick out and highlight individual tunes to the point that it’s probably best just to sit back and enjoy the musical ride.
Credit too moppet Susan Waverly (Kylie Kimball) dismissed throughout by her fellow actors until she lets loose vocally to showcase what’s what.
Equally welcome are the comic relief interludes Ezekiel Foster (Kevin Poole) — playing sort of a Yankee version of Cousin Eddie from “National Lampoon’s Vacation— vexes fellow cast members with.
Visually the production proves a treat courtesy former Michigan coach Fielding Yost styled touchdown-a-minute wardrobe and scenery changes. Plaza’s rotating stage earns its keep upping several scenes to next level status along the way. Be sure to keep an eye out for a clever nod to “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Tickets are flying out the door. So says Plaza Director of Operations Aaron Siler. Best book your seat quick like.
The holiday festivities hardly stop with “White Christmas.” Disney’s “Frozen Jr.” opens Saturday and runs through Dec. 23 also at Plaza Theatre Co. Dudley Hall. Elvis tribute artist Kraig Parker brings the “Spirit of Christmas” to Plaza Main Street Dec. 19-21.
For tickets and information, call 817-202-0600 or visit plaza-theatre.com.