'White Christmas' brings holiday cheer to Syracuse Stage

Phil Davis (Craig Waletzko) and Judy Haynes (Mary Michael Patterson) prepare for their big number.Photo: Michael Davis White Christmas  Who Syracuse Stage  Where 820 E. Genesee St. Syracuse When Through Dec. 30 Tickets $30-54; 18 and under, $20 Review by Christina Riley 

If you’re hoping for a white Christmas this year, you don’t have to wait till Dec. 25. Syracuse Stage’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas rings in the season with holiday merriment to make the season bright.

Syracuse Stage’s production of the classic brings holiday cheer for all with dazzling choreography, fun choruses and a talented 30-member cast. Director Paul Barnes who also directed Stage’s The Miracle Worker in 2011, crafted a wonderfully delightful holiday production for the second production of Stage’s 40th anniversary season.

White Christmas tells the story of two long-time army buddies, Bob Wallace (Denis Lambert) and Phil Davis (Craig Waletzko), who become Broadway producers and entertainers. Bob and Phil soon meet their matches in the sister act of Betty and Judy Haynes (Zakiya Young and Mary Michael Patterson). From there, complete with romance, showbiz and holiday joy, the shenanigans ensue as they begin to produce their 1954 Christmas show.

Aside from the Christmas carols, tap dancing numbers and comedic overtures, what really makes this show work is its genuine relationships and cogent portrayals of ambition, love and determination. However, that’s also the aspect of the show that casts a shadow on the performance: the lack of a believable romance and sincere affection between one of the couples, Lambert and Young.

Ensemble members performing in 'White Christmas,' choreographed by David Wanstreet.Photo: Michael Davis

Lambert’s and Young’s relationship is the focal point of White Christmas. Their mercurial love affair is the driving force for most, if not the entire plot. Everything centers on them.  Young’s sultry vocals and graceful dancing successfully fulfills the musical role of the character. Lambert does a splendid job as well. His choreography and vocals are on point and would surely make Berlin proud.

However, it’s this pairing that negates from Lambert and Young’s wonderful solo performances. Their budding romantic relationship seems a bit forced and inorganic, and it’s difficult feel the longing and sincerity of the two proposed lovebirds. The inauthenticity may be the result of color-blind casting with Young, a black woman, playing the traditionally white role. However, having an interracial couple isn’t truly what makes this difficult. It’s that whenever the two are sharing intimate moments, the audience is left with a rather shallow, gossamer feeling of a romance instead of a genuine, blossoming affection that should make us believe they are truly in love.

While Lambert and Young’s relationship lack, the coupling of Waletzko and Patterson is much more satisfying. As the more light-hearted pairing, their “love at first sight” relationship and happy-go-lucky personalities culminated in a more heartfelt display of affection than Lambert and Young ever seemed to achieve.

The Haynes Sisters, (Left, Zakiya Young and Mary Michael Patterson) perform their song, "Sisters."Photo: Michael Davis

The characters played by James Van Treuren (General Henry Waverly) and Mary Jo Mecca (Martha Watson), however, have the most sincere connection. The tension and affection between those two is displayed in such a tangible and earnest manner that really invites the audience to be emotionally engaged in their relationship. In fact, it’s these two who provide such solid acting to the performance. They executed each scene with such ease and authenticity that adds such a welcomed grounding to the light-hearted Christmas musical. Treuen’s gruff and ruggedness masterfully complimented Mecca’s caring yet stern, no-nonsense character. While there were many notable moments throughout the night, Mecca’s vocal performance was one of best of the show. She, like her character, knew how to capture her audience, own her performance and leave everyone wanting more.

Despite a few minor lapses in inter-character relations, Barnes did a fantastic job directing this classic piece. With each scene, the stage was decked with viscerally enchanting scenery (scenic design by William Bloodgood) and the 30-member cast, 12-piece ensemble gifted a charming and absolutely enjoyable production of White Christmas.