2022 has been a huge year for Kyle DeFauw of Davenport.
Graduated this year (!) from St. Ambrose with a degree in theater – over two years after he knocked my socks off singing Archibald Craven for the still unproduced Music Guild “Secret Garden” – DeFauw has quickly become a clear, shining star at Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse.
He was a feral, intense, overpowering, heartbreaking and triumphant co-star of the flawless “Beauty and the Beast,” and he often stole the show in “Clue” as the hilarious, slimy capitalist Mr. Green.
DeFauw seamlessly slides into his latest role like a hand in stylish leather glove as the old-fashioned song-and-dance man Bob Wallace in the justly beloved holiday musical “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas.” He’s the greatest gift in this theatrical sleigh bursting with presents just waiting to be opened.
DeFauw is the total package – a drop-dead gorgeous singing voice (a velvety, buttery tenor), as well as a magnetic stage presence, relatable and sincere, with confident, smooth dancing moves.
Directed and choreographed with endless panache and affection by Ashley Becher, this glorious “White Christmas” gives DeFauw and the rest of this excellent cast many opportunities to create picture-perfect moments, songs and scenes.
Based on the iconic 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have a successful song-and-dance act after World War II. With romance in mind, the two follow a duo of beautiful singing sisters en route to their Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which happens to be owned by Bob and Phil’s former Army commander.
Featuring a dazzling score with well-known standards including “Blue Skies,” “I Love A Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean” and the timeless title song, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” is a nonstop visual and sonic treat.
Circa veteran Bobby Becher makes an ideal complement to DeFauw as Phil, more lighthearted and wise-cracking — but his solid equal in the singing/dancing realm. They lead the very slick, showy and fun “Happy Holiday/Let Yourself Go” with the top-notch ensemble (though it seemed like Bob and Phil should have had tap shoes in the tap-style number).
Becher (who falls fast and hard for the lovely Caroline Portner as Judy Haynes) wants to not only find a sister act for the show, but wants DeFauw as Bob to fall in love and have like nine kids. That relationship is a little more complex and stormy for Bob, who pairs with Judy’s sister Betty (a wonderful Melissa Whitworth) first in “Love and the Weather.”
Phil and Judy may be more blissfully entertaining (and Becher and Portner make an amazing dance couple), but Bob and Betty are more interesting to follow with their ups and downs. DeFauw and Whitworth bring darkness, cynicism, pathos and true depth to their roles.
Among the many highlights of this old-fashioned hit parade, Portner and Whitworth’s “Sisters” is a real gem — just perfect, and right to the point. DeFauw and Becher do a snarky, fun reprise of it in the second act.
Sarah Hayes is another standout, ideally embodying the fittingly named Martha “Megaphone” Watson and she impressively unfurls her big, brassy voice in “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.” With a top hat and cane, Hayes makes it into a walloping showstopper.
DeFauw leads two (literally) stellar numbers that close the first act. In front of a starlit backdrop, Bob serenades first the young girl Susan, then Betty, in what could be a Thanksgiving anthem, “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep).” When DeFauw and Whitworth kiss among the stars, it’s one of many magical “White Christmas” moments.
The next is in the very next song — the super cool “Blue Skies,” jazzy, easygoing, and a dance extravaganza. It’s also one of several numbers that showcase the great talents of costume coordinator Bradley Jensen, who appears to have a barn-ful of clothes to outfit the varied panoply of colorful scenes and songs.
While the “Blue Skies” number is naturally sky-blue and white, the top of Act II’s “I Love a Piano” is classic, chic black and white (including matching gloves, one color each hand for each performer), led by Becher and Portner with unflagging style and breathtaking energy.
“Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” has terrific three-part harmonies and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”/”How Deep Is the Ocean” is all ritzy elegance and mesmerizing romance.
It’s a welcome sight to see longtime Circa vet Tom Walljasper back in a hand-in-glove role for him, the gruff, strict General Waverly, who naturally has a heart of gold.
Scenic artist Becky Meissen (in tandem with costumer Jensen) makes it all look fabulous, including the large red barn backdrop, and final Christmas scene, complete with lighted tree and some falling snow in the middle of the stage (also would have been nice to spread out artificial snow wider on the set).
With a singalong “White Christmas” near the close, this is an impeccable, superb gift for the holidays, and as satisfying as a warm blanket, good book, and hot cocoa in front of a blazing fireplace.
Performances will run through Dec. 30 on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday matinées at 1:15 p.m. Pre-show entertainment featuring the theatre’s enthusiastic wait staff, the Bootleggers, will precede all performances.
Tickets are $58.55 for the evening dinner-and-show productions and $51.73 for the Wednesday matinées. With the demand for seating, the theater has added selected Thursday evening performances and also additional matinee performances on selected Fridays in December.
For reservations and more information, visit the Circa box office (1828 3rd Ave., Rock Island) or call 309-786-7733 ext. 2. Online reservations are not available at this time.
For a slideshow of “White Christmas” photos, click below.