Atlanta-based Theater of the Stars’ vivacious version of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, presented December 26-30 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, is a delightful holiday treat for Triangle theatergoers. This crowd-pleasing jukebox musical, which earned a standing ovation on opening night Dec. 26th, features 17 classic songs by celebrated composer and lyricist Irving Berlin, including the title tune, “Blue Skies,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Happy Holiday,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “I Love a Piano,” and “Sisters,” plus a lively old-fashioned book by David Ives and Paul Blake, based on the 1954 Paramount Pictures film directed by Michael Curtiz and written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank.
Last night, ingenious musical staging by director Jeff Calhoun and invigorating dance numbers by choreographer Noah Racey, especially the exuberant rehearsal rendition of “Blue Skies” and the tapdance extravaganza on “I Love a Piano” combined with spirited singing, dancing, and wisecracking by the show’s dynamic cast to keep Raleigh Memorial Auditorium jumping for two and a half hours (including intermission). The decision to have the show’s events unfold on a movie soundstage helped make the many rapid scene changes positively cinematic.
Tom Galantich and especially David Engel put plenty of personality into their performances as crooner Bob Wallace and comedian and ladies’ man Phil Davis, two former U.S. Army buddies who have become America’s favorite song-and-dance team of the mid-1950s. Marla Schaffel is cute but Kristen Beth Williams is even cuter as the up-and-coming sister act of Betty and Judy Haynes, two beautiful singing sisters of a former freckled-faced Army buddy. When Phil and Judy start dating, and Judy plays matchmaker for Bob and Betty, the boys follow the girls from a none-too-classy nightspot in New York to their next booking — at the nearly deserted Columbia Inn in Pinetree, Vermont, owned and operated by Wallace and Davis’ much beloved former World War II commander, General Waverly (George McDaniel).
Perhaps because they have more comic moments, Engel and Williams outshine Galantich and Schaffel. McDaniel is a bit bland as the General; but Karen Murphy, who plays Martha “The Megaphone” Watson, is a scream as the inn’s nosy concierge and resident busybody. Little Hannah Misera likewise makes a big impression as the General’s precocious granddaughter Susan Waverly, Fred Berman is highly amusing as “Ed Sullivan Show” producer Ralph Sheldrake, Elisa Van Duyne and Roxane Barlow polish their cameo roles as a couple of wisecracking chorus girls named Rita and Rhoda until they shine like a pair of comic gems, and Jonathan Kay and John Shuman royally entertain the audience with their antics as Wallace and Davis’ stage manager Mike and a smart-aleck local stagehand named Ezekiel, with a molasses-slow New England drawl.
Also adding oomph to this gala Theater of the Stars’ presentation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas are the sprightly instrumental accompaniment by musical director/conductor Steven Landau and his peppy pit band, scenic designer Kenneth Foy’s striking evocations of the show’s multiple locations in New York and Vermont and during the train trip from the Big Apple to little Pinetree, and costume designer Wade Laboissonniere’s eye-catching wardrobe of 1950s glad rags and casual attire for the large and talented cast.
Broadway Series South presents Irving Berlin’s White Christmas Thursday, Dec. 27, at 8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, Dec. 28-29, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 30, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21-$68, except $80 Family 4 Park, including four mezzanine seats and hot chocolate and cookies, for the 2 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Sunday performances and $100 Family 4 Park for the 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday performances. Progress Energy Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Discounts (for groups of 20 or more): 919/ 857-4565. Note: Arts Access, Inc., will audio-describe the 8 p.m. Dec. 29th performance. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/. The Tour: http://www.theaterofthestars.com/ [inactive 8/08]. The Musical: http://www.rnh.com/ [inactive 4/08] (Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization). Irving Berlin: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=6452 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000927/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://www.irvingberlin.com/ (Irving Berlin Music Company) [inactive 4/08]. Marla Schaffel: http://www.ibdb.com/person.asp?ID=75552 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0769811/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://www.currerwells.net/marlaschaffel/ (Marla Schaffel: The Unofficial Fan Website).