ABRAMS, Wis. (WFRV) – “A” starts “Abrams.” It also starts “ambition.” And “applause.”
Ambition is all over Abrams Spotlight Productions’ presentation of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.”
There even is falling snow in The Nancy Byng Community Theatre at the end.
A remarkable eagerness met this show. When eight performances sold out, another was added as a fundraiser for the theater’s roof – and that sold out in 72 hours.
Thursday’s opening-night audience was especially enthusiastic about the performance. Every little bit of humor received a big response.
The ambition circles around Debra Jolly. A longtime member of the community theater troupe, Debra Jolly is the show’s director and choreographer and co-costume designer and lighting designer and probably inspiration.
One of the wowing scenes is “I Love a Piano,” which opens as a singing duet and evolves into an ensemble tap-dance routine that keeps on going and going and going. An unspoken presence is the hours that went into the crisp costumes and the crisp footwork. Flash forward to the bows at the end of the show: One of the lead dancers in that routine was choking back tears in the midst of all the good feelings radiating from the standing, applauding and cheering audience.
To be sure, some of the show’s performance requirements are a bit out of the element for some of the players. But the can-do spirit of community theater is present.
The time first is in a war zone in 1944. Then, time flashes ahead 10 years with the loyalty and devotion of the battlefront still pulsing.
Soldiers Bob Wallace (Bobby Buffington) and Phil Davis (Preston Pelegrin), who entertained on the front, are now stars good enough to be sought after for TV’s legendary “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The two are set up to meet an act, The Haynes Sisters – Betty (Elizabeth Jolly) and Judy (Ali Carlson) – for possibly joining the Wallace and Davis act. It’s love at first sight for Bob and Judy and hate at first sight for Phil and Betty.
In true showbiz show fashion, everybody winds up at an inn in rural Vermont that just happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s former battlefield commander, Gen. Henry Waverly.
This production has a special aura around Gen. Waverly. First, Bob Maloney has a precise, commanding way to his presentation – deliberate and to the point. Also, a veteran element weaves through the production. In opening remarks, troupe president Bill Koehne told the audience an anonymous donor contributed money so that 50 veterans could attend performances. During performances, a scene is set up so that veterans in the audience are recognized when they stand. It’s a touching tribute.
This and that:
+ Bobby Buffington, Preston Pelegrin, Elizabeth Jolly and Ali Carlson provide the glue for the story as their characters build drama and delight around classic songs. Ali Carlson is particularly expressive as a tap dancer.
+ The song “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” is twice a solo showcase. First, Kari Moody, as the General’s do-all aide, grabs hold of the song in a presentation filled with gumption. Then, Elyse Finger, as the General’s sparkplug young granddaughter, repeats the song in a miniature version of showbiz spark. The icing on her showy cake is a cartwheel.
+ The scene-change crew is part of the show for its scurrying, timed efficiency between scenes.
+ The production keeps coming with costuming touches, with dance-number action, with moments in songs, with feeling toward military service.
+ Projections on a back screen first set the scene on a battlefront and, at the end, in a snowy landscape. As the company sings “White Christmas” with the audience encouraged to sing along, light effects create snow on the walls and ceiling while snowy flakes tumble from devices above.
Yes, this is quite the involved, ambitious production.
Running time: Two hours, 45 minutes
Remaining performances (check availability): 7 p.m. Dec. 2, 3; 1 p.m. Dec. 4; 7 p.m. Dec. 6, 8, 9, 10; 1 p.m. Dec. 11
Creative: Based on the 1954 movie of the same name; book – David Ives, Paul Blake; music and lyrics – Irving Berlin; director – Debra Jolly; assistant directors – Heather Cox, Bill Koehne; technical director, set designer – Mike Konkel; scenic painters – Whitney Fuller, Lori Jolly, Kelsey Steeno; stage manager, sound operator – Tanya Brehmer; choreographer – Debra Jolly; costume design – Katie Jackson, Debra Jolly; costumes – Lisa Buntrock, Julie Johannes-Frohlinger, Kelsy Steeno, Ali Carlson; props – Joanne Konkel, Kelsey Steeno; lighting designer – Debra Jolly; sets – Michael Konkel, David Jolly; production coordinators – Jennifer Marquart, Ali Carlson
Bob Wallace – Bobby Buffington
Phil Davis – Preston Pelegrin
Betty Haynes – Elizabeth Jolly
Judy Haynes – Ali Carlson
Gen. Henry Waverly – Bob Maloney
Martha Watson – Kari Moody
Susan Waverly – Elyse Finger
Ralph Sheldrake, Ensemble – Tyler Otto
Rita, Quintet, Ensemble – Betsy Finger
Rhoda, Ensemble – Allison “Wonderland” Schoel
Ezekiel Foster, Ensemble – Allen Steeno
Mike, Quintet, Ensemble – Brady Cox
Dance Captain, Cigarette Girl, Ensemble – Hailey Marquardt
Assistant Seamstress, Ensemble – Presley Ellison
Quintet, Mr. Snoring Man, Announcer, Ensemble – Theodore “TJ” Hock
Tessie, Ensemble – Julie Johannes-Frohlinger
Seamstress, Ensemble – Brigit Pettit
Ensemble – Kelsey Steeno
Quintet, Sheldrake’s Secretary, Ensemble – Sydney Surber
Mrs. Snoring Man, Ensemble – Abby Frank
Musical selections (recorded soundtrack)
Overture – Orchestra
“Happy Holiday (1944)” – Bob Wallace and Phil Davis
“White Christmas (Music Box)” – Bob, Phil, Ralph Sheldrake and Ensemble
“Happy Holiday” / “Let Yourself Go” – Bob, Phil and Ensemble
“Love and the Weather” – Bob and Betty Haynes
“Sisters” – Betty and Judy Haynes
“The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” – Phil, Judy and Quintet
“Snow” – Phil, Judy, Bob, Betty, Mr. and Mrs. Snoring Man and Ensemble
“What Can You Do With a General?” – Martha Watson, Bob and Phil
“Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” – Martha
“Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” – Bob and Betty
“Blue Skies” – Bob and Ensemble
Entr’acte – Orchestra
“I Love a Piano” – Phil, Judy and Ensemble
“Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” – Martha, Betty and Judy
“Sisters” (Reprise) – Bob and Phil
“Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” /“How Deep Is the Ocean?” – Betty and Bob
“The Old Man (Prelude)” – Bob and Male Ensemble
“Let Me Sing and I’m Happy (Reprise)” – Susan Waverly
“How Deep Is the Ocean? (Reprise)” – Betty and Bob
“The Old Man” (Prelude) – Bob and Male Ensemble
“Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” (reprise) – Susan Waverly
“How Deep Is the Ocean?” (Reprise) – Betty and Bob
“The Old Man” – Bob, Phil, Ralph and Male Ensemble
“White Christmas” – Bob and Company
NEXT: “Gypsy” musical, March 16-26.
THE VENUE: The Nancy Byng Community Theater is located at 5852 Maple St. in Abrams. The 167-seat theater is the former St. Louis Catholic Church, built in 1927. Seating is in individual padded chairs. Roman arched windows from the former church are uncovered, revealing eight stained-glass windows. Wooden walls and the ceiling panels made of compressed cardboard are painted black. Wooden flooring includes the image of the classic comedy/drama theater masks in the center aisle. In the rear of the theater is a concession area that serves pop, popcorn, candy and light alcoholic beverages that may be consumed in the theater.
THE PERSON: Nancy Byng was involved in many facets of creativity, from painting to costume designing to directing to writing scripts. She co-founded the theater company on 2003 with her great-nephew, Brandon Byng, who continues his involvement in directing and acting in Clintonville and elsewhere. Nancy Byng died in 2011.