Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at Circa 21
Circa 21’s current on stage offering is Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, a holiday musical based on the movie of the same name. As in the movie, two former soldiers make a name for themselves in show business as a song and dance team. Phil’s effort to set Bob up with a mate leads them to Vermont, where they’re putting on a holiday show with the Haynes sisters. The show is also a chance for the boys to encourage their former General, who now runs the Inn in which they’re putting on the show.
To be frank, I didn’t expect to be wowed at Circa. I vaguely remember the movie and how I didn’t think it was all that interesting. However, I very much enjoyed Circa 21’s production. The show itself may lack enough conflict to keep you captivated to the end, but Circa managed to make an enjoyable experience of it, with some smile-inducing performances.
I was most impressed with Autumn O’Ryan, who plays Martha Watson, a former performer herself and now the woman actually running the General’s Columbia Inn. O’Ryan is feisty, with an attention grabbing stage presence. I wanted more lines for her. The couple at the table next to me were tickled pink by her, with the wife stating “There she is!” every time O’Ryan walked on stage.
Kent Lewis, who plays Bob Wallace, is the only actor that didn’t seem to be acting. While the rest of the cast portrayed their characters at stage level, with appropriately exaggerated facial expressions, enunciation and inflection in order to be picked up by audience members in the back of the room, Lewis offered a smooth portayal of the lead character. And that’s the word that kept coming to mind, smooth. Not that he’s a smooth dealer, but his presence and delivery has a smoothness to it, which is natural and inviting. I wanted to watch him on stage because I liked his Bob. However, my companion for the evening pointed out he didn’t offer a lot of variation in emotions, moving from his love interest telling him off and walking out at one moment to being full on smiles and performance ready in the very next. While I would agree Lewis offered limited variation, I don’t think it detracted from his performance. He was so natural and likeable, drawing you in to enjoy Bob’s experiences along with him.
While I found Gabriel Beck’s Phil Davis and Erin Dickerson’s Judy Haynes a bit too over the top, I enjoyed them together. They made for the perfect pair, matching each others levels. And, while I don’t usually like dance numbers with only two people, I was captivated by their dance during “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.”
Megan Rosenblatt often drew my attention away from the main action. As Rhoda, she was never out of character while on stage. It’s not that she pulled focus, but that I happened to notice how she was “on” every moment she was on stage and then couldn’t help but watch her. In fact, I preferred her while she was in the background to when she actually delivered lines, which were delivered well, but often too loud, distorting the sound and making it difficult to understand her exact words. This isn’t to say she was bad. She was one of the most enjoyable supporting cast members.
Don Hepner’s Ezekiel would be another. His moments on stage brought many laughs in the audience.
The set is also remarkable. There’s nice use of floating pieces (stages, boxes, etc.). There’s also a remarkable barn that’s worth noticing rather than just accepting as a background.
Overall, I really enjoyed the show. I laughed out loud frequently and left with a smile.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs through January 5th at Circa 21 in Rock Island.