Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
Mid-century classic movies like White Christmas (1954) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) are synonymous with the holidays. Unlike visits from some relatives, these films are a happy, feel-good part of the holiday reunion season. The 2000 theatrical musical adaptation of White Christmas by Irving Berlin, Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, Melvin Frank, David Ives, and Paul Blake features 17 enchanting Irving Berlin songs.
As Little Lake Theatre Company closes its 75th anniversary season with White Christmas, two classics unite. What makes this particular show incredibly special is that real-life Hawk sisters Alexis (Betty) and Samantha (Judy) play the fictional sister singing act, the Haynes Sisters. They authentically capture the range of intuition, banter, cattiness, and the sixth sense of sisters whose shared childhood has them in lockstep sync, whether they want to be or not. The sisterly duo turns family trio as mom Kathy Hawk capably steers the show as director.
The play tracks WW2 veterans and musical act, Captain Bob Wallace (Dylan Pal) and Private Phil Davis (EJ Christopher). We see them go from performing for their compadres in army camo to appearing bedecked in sequins on The Ed Sullivan Show. Kathy Hawk deftly directs Pal and Christopher to evolve from slightly hapless to polished professionals in the space of those sequences to demonstrate the refinement and evolution of their act.
The play subtly demonstrates how military hierarchy extends beyond the bounds of service. Costume designer Ayana Sicheri has Captain Wallace in a black sequined blazer, whereas the lower ranked Private Davis only gets a black sequined vest. Later, their assistant Tessie (Audrey Wells) pointedly notes to Wallace that “You and Mr. Davis are on the train.” Kathy Hawk has Wells adjust her tone and issue a subtle eye roll to indicate Davis is the lesser of the duo. They do end up on a train – but to Pine Tree, Vermont instead of Miami – as Wallace and Davis fall for (and follow) the singing Haynes sisters.
The flipside of privilege is discrimination, and we see military service isn’t always a benefit. The duo’s former commanding officer, General Waverly (John Herrmann), is in danger of losing his Vermont inn. The song “What Can You Do With a General?” reinforces the paradox of the general – respected but overqualified for civilian life. Wallace and Davis organize the original GoFundMe to save Waverly’s inn by calling in their 151st division mates to descend on his inn for Christmas.
Military service isn’t the only discrimination we see in the play. As Phil, Christopher consistently ogles the ladies, even after he unites with Judy, reinforcing stereotypes of the lowly private as uncouth. Pal demonstrates a sense of discernment associated with rank. As Captain, he is more subtle in his pursuit of the ladies and focuses more on the duo’s career advancements.
As career military, the General seems clueless about women. He huffs at his innkeeper, Martha (Lisa McCoy), that he “got along just fine without you in the army.” McCoy’s snappy comeback that “It took 17,000 men to take my place,” elicits laughter and foreshadows feminism with her post-WW2 Rosie the Riveter confidence. By the end of the play, Waverly has evolved and realized the truth in her statement. He refers to Martha as “his superior,” suggesting a new worldview in which men no longer anchor gender to hierarchy.
The play opens on Christmas Eve 1944 as Wallace and Davis perform for the troops. They ponder what 1945 will bring and then wonder where everyone will be in 10 years in impossibly far away 1954 (no one suspects Pine Tree, VT). In the midst of war, they solemnize, “let’s pray it’s a better world.” As 2023 bends into 2024, one thinks of the coming year and a seemingly far decade out. Let’s hope history holds, and it’s a better world in 2033 too.
Find joy this holiday season. White Christmas runs through December 16, 2023 at Little Lake Theatre Company in Canonsburg, PA. Purchase tickets online at https://www.littlelake.org/whitechristmas