Celebrating its 30th Anniversary Season, the Cocoa Village Playhouse presents an elegantly nostalgic look at U.S. culture as it might have been for some World War II veterans and post-vaudevillian performers in 1950’s New England: White Christmas offers delightful family-friendly holiday fare for any snowbird or Floridian who desires to revel in the Christmas spirit without the freeze. **Play Video**
Or, for musicophiles, to revel in a live orchestra of 17 instrumentalists, led by Thomas Black, who deliver an exciting combination of big-band and orchestral arrangements by the legendary Irving Berlin.
Based on the Paramount Pictures film released in 1954 with a book by David Ives and Paul Blake, the plot involves opening a Broadway-style musical in a Vermont barn and also hosts scenes in an NYC cabaret and a spot on the Ed Sullivan show. Dated jokes surface through gender stereotypes common to and situations uncommon to the show’s 1954 setting, including a gender-bending number which was shocking in its time (“Sisters, Reprise”).
Brevard audiences have come to expect elaborate scenery at CVP. In White Christmas, Set Designer Daniel Allen exhibits an enormous wainscoted barn that can be alternately back-lit or white-washed, as well as various fly-in walls and push-in furniture to frame intimate scenes. Lighting Designer Ian Cook delivers expansive projections of a bomb-riddled battlefield, a penthouse view of NYC, a snowy Vermont slope, and a variety of interiors.
The talented and diverse ensemble of 28 singers and dancers conquered ambitious choreography by Co-director Pamela Larson, including the show-stopping tap number “I Love A Piano” and geometric patterns such as those used by famed-choreographer Busby Berkeley in films like 42nd Street (1933). On the other hand, a ballroom number “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” was eclipsed by projections of greyscale films of Judy Garland and Fred Astaire, among other “Golden Age” celebrity dancers. Those cinematic clips stole focus from the live performers and one wonders if they were a late-add strategy to reduce attention to an under-choreographed scene. (CVP might have run out of rehearsal time due to the replacement of one of their lead actors.)
Costumer Daniel Hill (who also played Ed Sullivan) re-imagined sparkly, translucent pantsuits for “I Love a Piano” and shortened the prerequisite red-with-white-trim dresses for the finale. (Anything to cool a costume is very courteous to the performers working under hot stage lights, especially in Florida.)
The entirely local and volunteer cast of this second run of White Christmas at CVP was led by returning stars Brian Smith and Kari Ryan (as Captain Bob Wallace and Betty Haynes; previously Ben Franklin in 1776 and Eva Perón in Evita, respectively). Also reprising roles were real-life married CVP veterans Don and Leeann Cross (General Waverly and Martha “Megaphone” Watson), who bring sage advice and biting wit to the light-hearted plot. Together, these four performers expertly deliver the melodies, romance, and shtick that audiences seek in such a traditional musical.
The casting surprises land on emerging stars Cullen Sanders and Kelli Folse (as simple and bumbling Phil Davis and crafty and glamorous Judy Haynes). Folse (formerly as Martha in The Secret Garden) has consistently held ensemble roles at CVP with progressively more difficult dance requirements. This is Folse’s break-out leading role and she glistens throughout the production with tap, ballroom, and vocal sequences that could land her roles in tours and films if she was so inclined. Budding leading-man Sanders returns to CVP after recently appearing as Sonny in Grease and in the ensemble of several productions at nearby community theaters.
Notable mentions include Larry Jones as loud-mouthed agent Ralph Sheldrake and youngster Katie Naberhaus who slays in the reprise of “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy, Reprise” (sung first by L. Cross). Ray Frye and Connie Browning were very funny as Snoring Man and Mrs. Snoring Man (yes, those are the actual character names in the playbill).
CVP Notes: At intermission, Executive Director Anastacia Hawkins-Smith announced CVP’s purchase of an adjoining building and an upcoming renovation to expand the lobby and to create a second stage for experimental productions and community events, as well as the projected installation of an elevator to provide access to the upper levels of both new and historic buildings.
Ticket Details: White Christmas’s extended run is through December 15th, 2019 with a likely one-week extension. The Cocoa Village Playhouse is located at 300 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa, FL 32922. Individual tickets cost $21-32. Season passes run $76-$108 for any four performances remaining in the season. Call the ticket office at (321) 636-5050 or visit http://cocoavillageplayhouse.com/ for reservations.
Kristin Springer is a Master Music Educator who grew up in Florida and holds a graduate degree from New York University. She offers private vocal coaching, piano & guitar lessons, and Music Readiness classes out of the Springer Music Studio (more information is available on the studio website and Facebook page).