Courtesy of the Erie Times-News:
The stage version of Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas” is bringing a dash of nostalgia and patriotism to Meadville’s Academy Theatre. Directed by Sue Wentz, this musical about friendship, romance and loyalty is a splendid show to see this season.
Chris Greeley has both the gravitas and the voice to play Bob Wallace, the role occupied by Bing Crosby on film. His performance of “White Christmas” is stirring, and his rendition of “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” is wonderfully tender.
Mat Anderson brings bright humor and masterful coordination to his Academy debut as Phil Davis, Bob’s freewheeling stage partner. He is particularly entertaining alongside the exuberant Jen Coutsis as Judy Haynes, sister to the more cautious Betty, whose character arc is touchingly played by Rachel Freenock.
Adding to the fun as meddling inn employee Martha is Melanie Preston LaLone, who shows off her stellar showmanship with “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”
Glen Tuttle is a hoot as a forever-frazzled stage manager, as is Tug Roae as the taciturn Ezekiel, who frequently vexes him. Tim Solomon brings gruff dignity and comical facial expressions to the much-loved General Waverly.
What really stands out about this production is its visual appeal. The sets, designed by Wentz, have a classic beauty, and the colorful Christmas tree is especially warm and inviting. Sarah Wolford’s costumes, particularly those used in the final number, are lovely.
Most striking, though, are the dynamic and artfully performed dance numbers choreographed by Coutsis. “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano” are both excellent showcases for the ensemble’s talents.
Opening night offered a unique testament to the talent of the cast, particularly Greeley. When a stage malfunction caused him to fall off during the first big group number, he recovered and regained the stage immediately. The song went on without missing a beat.
The beautifully decorated theater lends a further touch of class to the show. The most moving aspect is a tribute to veterans in the audience toward the end, acknowledging their sacrifices so future generations could celebrate in peace.