Tis the season to enjoy a holiday musical at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia as they present Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Directed by Larry Munsey and David James with musical direction provided by Pam Wilt, this heart-warming Christmas tale will bring joy and merriment to young and old spirits as the cast sing and dance their way through timeless classics, giving the audience that true holiday feeling.
Based on the familiar film we see here the story of Bob Wallace (Larry Munsey) and Phil Davis (David James) musical partners and best friends who are on their way to celebrate the season in sunny Florida. Enter a set of stellar singing sisters, Judy (Julia Lancione) and Betty Haynes (Janine Gulisano-Sunday) who adore Wallace and Davis and are bound to become part of the dynamic duo’s stage show. With a train mix-up and jaunty musical tunes about snow they all end up at the Pine Tree lodge in Vermont, which just happens to be owned by Wallace and Davis’s former army general, Henry Waverly (Samn Huffer.) Add the missing snow, a chorus of amazing dancers, some romantic tangles, and a big inn-keeping matron with a mouth to match and you have a masterpiece of holiday happiness and Christmas chuckles on the stage.
You won’t need to go see any displays of holiday lights this year because the costumes, designed by Lawrence B. Munsey, will outshine even the brightest of Christmas lights. With glitter, sparkles, sequins, tinsel, and more glitter, the costumes are ravishing and elegant making each of the actors an eye-catching artwork as they dance throughout the show. The men of the chorus, as well as Wallace and Davis are outfitted in dapper suits, of matching colors. And the dresses for the women are astonishing. In one of the opening numbers, “Happy Holidays/Let Yourself Go” the dresses are brightly colored puffed with red and white crinoline and adorned with large ornament shaped appliqués adding that extra special holiday feeling to the whole number. The bright robin’s egg blue dresses with sparkling bodices and glittering skirts, complete with rhinestone straps, for the Haynes sisters create that bubbling sparkle that enhances their jovial personalities. Even the large orange and navy shiny box costumes for the Oxydol advertisement girls (Jen Kohlhafer and Christen Svingos) are dazzling. Watch out for the tinsel tree costumes that these girls wear a bit later in the show – it’s brilliant and a little risqué!
Perhaps the most stunning thing about this show aside from the fascinating costumes, the melodious singing and the charming acting is the mind-blowing choreography. With a talented ensemble (Frank Anthony, James Biernatowski, Arielle Gordon, Ray Hatch (who is quite boisterous in his role as a Stage Manager, who I wish would speak softer and his blow his whistle less), Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth Jr., David Jennings, Jordan Klein, Jen Kohlhafer, Erin McNerny, Jamie Ogden, Christen Svingos, and Ryan Patrick Welsh) choreographed by Paula Lynn, the cast of White Christmas presents Broadway quality dance numbers, including several brilliant tap performances. Their numbers are synchronized to perfection and the fancy footwork is really shown off in numbers like “Blue Skies” and again in “I Love a Piano” where we see complex tap routines, both sitting on stools and around the baby grand on the stage. It is a brilliant execution of choreographed genius at work throughout the show and never a dull dance to be seen.
And the chemistry among the cast is bubbling. The show stars, Wallace (Larry Munsey) Davis (David James- 2-time Helen Hayes Award winner) Betty (Janine Gulisano-Sunday) and Judy (Julia Lancione) work extremely well together to create a brilliant show. Munsey and James are like two peas in a pod, their friendship shining through even the difficult patches that the characters encounter. They play well off one another as they exchange witty banter and discuss women. Munsey delivers an amazing performance as Bob Wallace, singing with heart-warming gusto and delivering a full range of emotions from star-struck with love when he first encounters Betty (Gulisano-Sunday) to frustration on the train to vibrant showmanship as he sings and dances his way through rehearsals. He’s an absolute delight to watch.
James delivers a rivaling stunning performance, matched only by his partner, and keeps you laughing as he lays down the chuckles line after line. When he sings it comes from the heart and his tender smile and jovial nature adds depth to the character. His stunning moment comes during his number “I Love a Piano” while singing with zealous soul and tap dancing right on top of the baby grand. A brilliant show-stealing moment.
The Haynes sisters are equally talented, with bright clear voices and expressive faces. Judy (Julia Lancione) provides the soft loving side of the sisterly duo, always carrying a smile on her lips even when she’s scolding James’ character for being a little too flirty. She’s the precious ingénue, without the naïveté, and adds beautiful harmony to all of the songs she sings. Betty (Janine Gulisano-Sunday) provides a great match to Judy, with a unique flare for the dramatic, especially when encountering Bob (Munsey.) Gulisano-Sunday and Munsey present brilliant chemistry together, first awkward without subtlety when they meet, and then a whole rollercoaster of emotions played at one another. She sings with tremendous vocal support, her voice a clear bell echoing through the audience and she does so with perfect annunciation, particularly in the number “Love & The Weather.” Watching her character evolve, Gulisano-Sunday attains new levels of character depth as she goes from part of a sisterly duet to something much bigger.
There are some fun-loving scene stealing characters that aren’t to be missed. The loveable Martha (Jane C. Boyle) who runs the Inn and the general like she might be married to them steals the show during her number “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” with a solid voice that comes as an amazing surprise from the humble innkeeper character. Boyle is boisterous and jovial and is fully committed to the character as she shuffles her way through the show. And strong character commitment is also found in General Henry Waverly (Samn Huffer). Huffer walks, talks, and acts exactly as expected of an old retired Military General. He barks commands but is quick to show his softer side when dealing with his granddaughter, Susan (Jacqueline Kempa). Boyle and Huffer bicker like an old married couple, adding to the hilarity of the show and their characters.
It’s a wonderful show glistening with holiday pride that will warm the cockles of your heart. And the ending will simply take you by storm as you watch this very talented cast bring forth all of the holiday favorites. So be sure not to miss White Christmas at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia.
White Christmas plays through January 8, 2012, at Toby’s Dinner Theatre of Columbia – 5900 Symphony Woods Road, in Columbia, MD. For reservations, call 1-800-88TOBYS, or purchase them online.