It didn’t matter that outside temperatures were diving into the icy teens because inside the Cadillac Palace Theatre, Tuesday, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” was warming the hearts of families and veterans with “Happy Holidays,” “Count Your Blessings” and “We’ll Follow the Old Man.”
But good as Berlin’s music and lyrics and David Ives and Paul Blakes’ book are, what makes the touring production now playing in Chicago worth its four stars is its talented cast and Randy Skinner’s excellent choreography and direction.
There are the perfectly executed dance numbers by a superb ensemble and the wonderful dancing of Kelly Sheehan as Judy Haynes and Jeremy Benton as Phil Davis. Plus, there is the beautiful voice of Kerry Conte as Betty Haynes and the Martha Raye-style singing and acting of Lorna Luft as Martha Watson.
Who doesn’t love a rousing tap number? If you do, then “White Christmas,” the holiday offering from Munster’s Theatre at the Center, is the holiday song-and-dance show for you.
The musical is the stage adaptation of my mom’s favorite Christmas movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen and Dean Jagger. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was turned into a stage show in 2000.
Munster’s version stars Matt Edmonds as Bob, Justin Brill as Phil, Casiena Raether as Judy, Erica Stephan as Betty and Neil Friedman as General Waverly.
It follows the story of Bob and Phil, singers who served under “The Old Man” in World War II before gaining fame and fortune as entertainers. Looking for romance, they follow sisters Judy and Betty to Vermont where the women are slated to perform on Christmas Eve.
When Bob and Phil learn that the inn is owned by the General who is facing financial ruin because there’s no snow, they rally the old troops to save him.
First a caveat, this critic loved Paramount’s 1954 movie and the musical’s theme’s of romance and military camaraderie and caring so was prepared to also love the show, now touring with a stellar cast of Broadway and tour veteran actors, singers and dancers. It didn’t disappoint. Instead, it seemed to this writer to be a perfect holiday ornament.
Based on the book by David Ives and Paul Blake with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, the musical has some fun songs such as “Snow” sung on a train ride from New York up to Vermont.
There are also some dated but fun pieces such as “What Can You Do With a General,” sung about the post-army job market for high-ranking officers.
But it’s the famous ones that audiences will likely be humming as they leave such as “I’ve got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and of course, “White Christmas.”
The story pairs Bob Wallace(Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), two very successful male entertainers who served in the same unit in WWII, with Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy (Kelly Sheenan) Haynes who have a sister act.
The gals are headed to a holiday gig at a Vermont ski resort where there is supposed to be snow. Davis tricks Wallace into joining them.
When they arrive, the gig turns into an effort to keep the resort, an inn owned by General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck), from going bankrupt.
How they pull it off and the general’s reaction still brings tears to my eyes.
Along the way you meet inn receptionist Martha Watson (Karen Ziemba), a former Martha Raye style entertainer who also is too nosy for anyone’s good.
Plus there is inn employee Ezekiel who is also the train’s snoring man (Cliff Bemis who has a great voice and originated the Broadway role), Gen. Waverly’s granddaughter Susan (delightfully played in the opening by Makayla Joy Connolly), Stage Manager Mike Nulty (Aaron Galligan-Stierle who is also the Ed Sullivan and Regency Room announcer), and Davis and Wallace promoter Ralph Sheldrake (Gil Brady who always has a “million dollar proposition”).
The musical is also a showcase for exceptional dance numbers including “Blue Skies.” Kudos to Director/ Choreographer Randy Skinner. In addition, Anna Louizos’ creative scenic design really helps tell the story.
DETAILS: ‘White Christmas’ is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre , 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes. For tickets and other information call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway in Chicago.