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Toby’s Dinner Theater White Christmas

By • Nov 28th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
White Christmas
Toby’s Dinner Theater
Toby’s Dinner Theater-Columbia, Columbia, MD
Through January 8th, 2012
2:45 with intermission
$48-$53/$34.50 Children
Reviewed November 20th, 2011

It is that time of year for Christmas specials and Holiday shows, and, really, when you have seen one, you have seen them all. However, every year, young or old, there is a special place in the heart that still wants to see them all, even with the slightly cheesy acting and predictable plotlines. We know how it will end, but we love when it ends that way anyway. It is hard to describe any of the cookie-cutter Holiday classics as ground-breaking or breath-taking. Yet they warm the heart and are refreshingly moral and wholesome. Toby’s White Christmas: The Musical is no different. You get exactly what you expect, and, sometimes, that is just what you need. There are even a few elements (the costumes, the choreography, and Janine Gulisano-Sunday) that take this production to the next level.

The story begins on Christmas Eve of 1944 with Captain Bob Wallace (Lawrence B. Munsey) and Private Phil Davis (David James) showing that they are little more interested in entertaining the troops than fighting the war, and Corporal Ralph Sheldrake (Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth, Jr.) is there to announce and encourage their hijinks. General Henry Waverly (Samn Huffer) is both amused and confused and is more focused on the war and the job he has to do. He delivers an impassioned speech to his men, as he is about to return home from Germany after an injury. He wonders where they will all be on Christmas Eve 1954. Not a mystery for long, the action quickly fast forwards to just before Christmas in 1954. The now famous act of Wallace & Davis is appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, which is produced by Sheldrake. They are about to head down to Florida for a nice sunny Christmas and a big musical revue. The one thing they are missing: a sister act. It also quickly becomes clear that both need the love of a good woman: Bob, because he guards his heart too much, and Phil, because he is a hopeless play boy. Enter the Haynes sisters: Betty (Janine Gulisano-Sunday) and Judy (Julia Lancione). They sing. They dance. They are beautiful. And they are perfect for Bob and Phil. Bob and Betty don’t see this at first and instantly start bickering. However, Phil and Judy concoct a scheme to get Bob to an inn in Vermont to spend the holidays with the Haynes sisters. Bob is about to leave when they discover that the inn is run by none other than General Waverly and is about to close down because he can’t pay the bills and no one is coming to sunny Vermont with a heat steak on. His concierge, Martha Watson (Jane C. Boyle) also happens to be a retired Broadway performer. So, soon, the cast of the Florida show is on their way to perform at the Vermont Inn instead. A few miscommunications and mishaps follow, but the end result is pleasantly predictable.

The technical elements of the production did an amazing job of setting the mood and tone for the production and seamlessly transitioning between a variety of locations. Little touches like the “On Air” signs and the signs that announce the names of various clubs really help to let the audience know where they are and what is going on. The lighting is used well to transition and set location as well. There are also great effects, like the very realistic snowfall. The set pieces are high-quality and ideal for use in the round. The train car and the way it is used in the number “Snow” really enhance the performance. The costumes are especially gorgeous. There are so many costumes changes throughout the show, and each costume is just more perfect and more beautiful than the last.

For the most part, the blocking makes excellent use of the space in the round. There were a few isolated incidents in which ensemble members were blocking more essential action from the view of some audience members, but these missteps were few and far between. The choreography was especially well-designed for the round. Paula Lynn deserves unending accolades for her work on this production. Every number was unique and interesting. She incorporated several different styles of dance and really knew how to bring that “old movie” feel to life on the modern stage. The cast also did an incredible job of doing justice to her choreography. They worked together as a well-oiled machine, a true ensemble. Both the leads and supporting cast members brought energy, skill, and joy to every musical number. In this production, the choreography and dance are really the most important element, and this cast nailed it.

The acting and singing in the production was also solid, and, sometimes, extraordinary. Munsey and James were good. They gave solid performances and had strong voices. Although they, at first, seemed slightly miscast based on look alone, both men had a likeable quality that really grows on you. They are also strong singers and excellent dancers. Sometimes, the acting scenes between the two of them were a little unbelievable. This was most likely a combination of the fact that the script is a little hokey and that the two men were also the co-directors and did not necessarily have the benefit of a real outside eye on some of those scenes.

Good, solid performances also came from Hedgepeth, Jane C. Boyle (Martha), and Jacqueline Kempa (Susan). They all had very infectious personalities, strong voices, and provided good character acting. The ensemble did well in a variety of small roles, and one real standout was Christen Svingos in the role of Rhoda.

The strongest acting moment in the show came in the form of the final monologue from Samn Huffer. He really connected to the heart of the moment and brought realistic passion to the moment.

The strongest overall performances came from Lancione and Gulisano-Sunday. Lancione had the feel and energy of a classic old movie ingénue. She had a beautiful voice and was a captivating dancer. Gulisano-Sunday was just extraordinary. Her voice had a magical quality to it, and she brought real soul and depth to each number that she performed. She was also able to make any dialogue sound believable and realistic.

So, if you are looking for a strong production of a feel-good holiday show with a few extraordinary elements to set it apart, then Toby’s White Christmas: The Musical is an excellent choice for audiences of all ages.

Cast

  • Ralph Sheldrake: Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth, Jr.
  • Bob Wallace: Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Phil Davis: David James
  • General Henry Waverly: Samn Huffer
  • TV Announcer: Ray Hatch
  • Rita: Jen Kohlhafer
  • Rhoda: Christen Svingos
  • Tessie: Jamie Ogden
  • Judy Haynes: Julia Lancione
  • Betty Haynes: Janine Gulisano-Sunday
  • Cigarette Girl: Erin McNerny
  • Jimmy: Jordan Klein
  • Conductor: Frank Anthony
  • Snoring Man: Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth, Jr.
  • Mrs. Snoring Man: Jamie Ogdon
  • Martha Watson: Jane C. Boyle
  • Susan Waverly: Kaila Friedman or Jacqueline Kempa
  • Ezekiel Foster: Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth, Jr. or Shawn Kettering
  • Mike Nulty: Ray Hatch
  • Ensemble: Frank Anthony, James Biernatowski, Arielle Gordon, David Jennings, Jordan Klein, Jen Kohlhafer, Erin McNerny, Jamie Ogden, Christen Svingos, Ryan Patrick Welsh
  • Swings: Cody Cooley & Amanda Kaplan
  • Understudies: Thomas Hunter Hedgepeth, Jr. (Bob Wallace), Jordan Klein (Phil Davis), Jamie Ogden (Betty Haynes), Jen Kohlhafer (Judy Haynes), Tere Fulmer (Martha Watson)

Production Staff

  • Co-Directors: David James & Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Musical Director: Pamela Wilt
  • Choreographer: Paula Lynn
  • Set Designer: David A. Hopkins
  • Costume Designer: Lawrence B. Munsey
  • Lighting Designer: Lynn Joslin
  • Sound Designer: Drew Dedrick
  • Costume Assistant: Della Lotman
  • Production Manager: Vickie S. Johnson
  • Production Stage Manager: Kate Wackerle
  • Stage Managers: Drew Dedrick, Kate Wacherle
  • Technical Director: Jimmy Engelkemier
  • Master Carpenter: David A. Hopkins
  • Set Construction: Corey Brown, Jimmy Englkemier, David A. Hopkins, Sarah Spaine, Russell Sunday
  • Properties & Set Dressing: Amy Kaplan
  • Light Board Operators: Coleen M. Foley, Erin MacDonald
  • Sound Operators: Drew Dedrick, Jimmy Engelkemier
  • Stage Crew: Erin MacDonald, Jason Britt, Laura Blasi

Orchestra

  • Conductor/Sinfonia/Keyboards: Pamela Wilt or Reenie Codelka
  • Trumpet: Anthony Neenan or Frank Gorecki
  • Drums/Percussion: Jack Loercher or Aaron Holmes

Disclaimer: Toby’s Dinner Theater provided three complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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