Annabeth Crittenden, Campus Carrier Entertainment Editor
Christmas spirit is in the air and the Rome Little Theatre (RLT) is certainly decked out for the holidays. Walking into the lobby of the DeSoto Theater, patrons are immediately greeted by wreaths and snowflakes galore, not to mention a towering Christmas tree.
It is appropriate then, that their current musical “White Christmas” accurately represents this festive season.
The musical follows two former World War II veterans, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who are currently starring in their own song and dance routine. They discover sisters Betty and Judy Haynes and follow them, determined to win their love. Their pursuit leads them to a rustic lodge in Vermont, which they discover is owned by their former commander, General Waverly. As the lodge’s financial situation begins to fail, Wallace and Davis decide to stage a musical to bring business back to the lodge.
The musical is based on the 1954 Paramount film of the same name. It features many songs from the film, including the iconic Irving Berlin song “White Christmas.” The show is also filled to the brim with elaborate dance numbers in styles from ballroom to tap.
As always with the Rome Little Theatre, the show is stacked with several amazingly talented cast members. One of these, senior Sophia Veser portrays Judy Haynes.
“After working in the professional world and then working with RLT … it was more like a family experience. They just want to make people smile,” Veser said.
Veser began her college theater experiences at Berry by doing “Hairspray” with RLT.
“I found it fitting to come full circle and finish out my four years here with another show with them,” she said.
I was also extremely impressed with the other three leads. James Swendsen played the role of Bob Wallace, a role that Bing Crosby originated in 1954. As soon as Swendsen began singing the first song of the musical, “Happy Holidays,” I knew that he would do Crosby justice. His voice was striking and all of his solos were sung magnificently. His partner in crime, Phil Davis (Russell Evans), was a worthy companion in his dancing and singing. Finally, the Haynes sisters, played by Veser and Mandy Maloney, dazzled that stage in whatever scenes they were in, especially in their opening number, accurately named “Sisters.”
My favorite part of the show, however, was the Act II opener, which included an enormous tap number complete with dazzling red sequins. Rome Little Theatre boasts about the dance numbers in their production and they did not disappoint. The cast worked hard to learn to master the tricky steps.
Also, while the choreography and staging was uncommonly well done for community theatre, there were several parts of the show in which the characters would continue the scene while the curtains closed behind them. And while this did wonders for the moderately smooth scene changes, it immediately took me out of the scene. To me, the closing of curtains means the end of something and when the scene continued in the strip of the stage left in front of the curtains, it took me away from the magic of the story and the amazing work done by much of the cast.
And speaking of amazing work, let me just mention Caitlyn Glaze, a young newcomer to the RLT stage. Glaze played Susan, the granddaughter of General Waverly. She had great stage presence at such a young age and her song was flawless. If you go for no other reason, go for the awe you will have when Glaze begins singing.
Honestly, “White Christmas” was not my favorite musical RLT has ever done. Due to the nature of the show, “White Christmas” required a tight ensemble, quick cue pickups, and an entire cast with full energy throughout the entire production. And unfortunately, this simply was not there for this production. While the leads, and some ensemble members, had several shining moments, the rest seemed uncomfortable in the bright lights of the stage. And when portraying a picture of the world in the 1950s, commitment to the piece is key. However, I cannot fault them too much for this. They do have two rehearsals before opening and I’m sure by the second weekend of the show, they will have kicked their performance into high gear.
Although I have my complaints, I do encourage people to go see “White Christmas.” Could it be cleaner? Sure. But it certainly makes up for that through the beautiful songs and dances.
“I feel like the most rewarding part hasn’t come yet. It’s when the audience gets there and the kids come and you get to see them smile and laugh at your jokes,” Veser said. “And for just those two hours they get to forget about everything they’re worried about and they just get to come and enjoy the show.”
The show is a classic featuring 17 Irving Berlin songs and a heart-warming story that is sure to get the audience in the Christmas spirit. I was certainly humming the title song as I walked from the theatre.
“White Christmas” opens on Dec. 4 and runs through Dec. 13. Shows begin on 8:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $16 for students and $18 for adults. Tickets can be reserved on Rome Little Theatre’s website or by calling 706-295-7171.