NORMAN — Show business panache and pizazz was more important than the lack of snow, and even triumphed over a somewhat sappy, sentimental plot, in the Sooner Theatre's production of “Irving Berlin's White Christmas.”
Based on classic color and black-and-white movie versions, the musical made good use of minimal, movable sets, backdrops and a live band. Andrew Franklin was a good catalyst as Phil Davis, the more flirtatious half of a song-and-dance duo, and found his romantic counterpart in Taylor Steedman, as Judy, the more outgoing member of a sister act.
Particularly delightful were the carefree moves of Franklin and Steedman in act one's “The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing,” and their handling of the second act opening “I Love a Piano.”
Providing a nice contrast to them were Brandon Adams as Bob Wallace, and Robin Huston as Betty Haynes, who got across the more introspective, romantically cautious attitudes of their characters.
An early song expressing their humorous doubts about the unpredictability of “Love and the Weather” was followed by a touching duet urging a sleepless child to “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
Even more moving was an unusual, but highly effective second act segment by Huston and Adams, set in a posh New York City nightclub. In this vignette, a glamorously clad Huston brought a strong voice and emotional warmth to “Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me,” joined by Adams, sitting alone at a table, singing “How Deep Is The Ocean.”
But if the two principal romantic couples supplied the show with its musical heart, the performances of many of the supporting characters greatly broadened its appeal. Jack Hays was just forceful, crusty and clueless enough as the World War II general out of his element, trying to run a quaint ski resort inn in Vermont, where you can't order it to snow.
Cast as the inn's concierge who hides bills from the general she may be in love with, Cindy Hanska exploited an Ethel Merman-like voice and take-no-prisoners delivery in “Let Me Sing and Be Happy.” Hanska was almost equally memorable, leading the Haynes sisters in a humorous song that proudly proclaims that “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun.”
Bryan Partridge had some good moments, too, as Ralph Sheldrake, an old Army buddy of Wallace and Davis who becomes a producer for the Ed Sullivan television show. Abby Hesselroth was charming as the general's young granddaughter visiting from California who soon forsakes her history paper for show business to try her own version of “Let Me Sing and Be Happy.”
Shane Pruitt was comically hyperactive as a stage manager — a fact exploited by Max Stephens as a laconic Vermont type, who answers “yep” to his urgent requests, until he gets the show business bug himself.
One of the best scenes, however, was an ensemble number in which passengers on a train to Vermont pantomimed snow falling — only to be told the temperature was 79 degrees when they arrived.
All of which seemed to prove that anticipation of a “White Christmas” can almost be more satisfying than the fact, when it finally happens. Directed by Lisa Fox with costumes by Kris Ocker, choreography by Chris Allen, and music direction by Les Downs, the production is highly recommended.
— John Brandenburg
‘Irving Berlin's White Christmas'
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Dec. 9.
Where: Sooner Theatre, 101 E Main, Norman.
Information: 321-9600 or www.soonertheatre.com.