Peoria Players Theater got the holiday season off to a somewhat shaky start with their presentation of "White Christmas".
This Irving Berlin classic has given us many musical standards. In addition to the title song, there are classics such as "Happy Holiday", "Sisters", "I Love a Piano", "Blue Skies", and "How Deep is the Ocean".
It has come to epitomize the Christmas spirit.
Unfortunately, this production suffers through poor direction and most of all through bad orchestration.
I was very much looking forward to seeing Jimmy LaHood in the lead role, having last seen him in his excellent portrayal of Leo Bloom in Eastlight's "The Producers".
However, as Bob Wallace in this production, Mr. LaHood appeared nervous and unsure of himself.
Indeed, he allowed the poor performing orchestra to lead him into several false starts and off-key notes in his musical numbers. His acting also was lacking. In his misguided attempt to mimic Bing Crosby, he came across a bit more Jack Benny.
Aaron Elwell turned in a good performance as the smooth womanizer Phil Davis, particularly in his rendition of "I Love a Piano".
Janette Beardsley was well cast as Martha and she sang the role well.
The standout performance in the production was Erin Durbin's portrayal of Betty Haynes. Ms. Durbin has a great and powerful voice. She belted out her numbers over the orchestra's missteps.
Her rendition of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" was the best vocal performance of the show.
Kudos must be given to Danny Fisher's choreography. The dance numbers were exceptional, with the one exception of "Sisters". The Haynes sisters' rendition consisted of merely posing with ostrich fans. Choreography for this number should look like this.
A real irritation during opening night was the gentleman a few rows behind me who thought it was his job to lead the audience in applause. He clapped loudly at inappropriate times and when numbers were not finished (and again when they were!) and of course most people followed along. Perhaps he had a relative onstage, but that type of cheer leading in a production like this merely smacks of desperation born of pity.
The same was true of the undeserved standing ovation, when a few people guilted most others into standing. It seems particularly true to Peoria Players audiences that any performance deserves a standing ovation, no matter how mediocre.
Well, this patron stayed stubbornly in his seat. I will stand for excellence, and this simply was not it.
With so much good talent on stage, it is a shame that poor direction and a bad orchestra held back this holiday classic from delivering what it should.
The show runs through December 19th at the theater in Lakeview Park.