A big challenge in doing a stage show based on the 1954 movie classic White Christmas — especially for a crowd of a certain age — is making it fresh and new. After all, most, if not all, of the people in the audience have seen the Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye film version at least once, if not a dozen times or more. Who could make them forget buh-buh-buh Bing singing what Guinness World Records says is the best-selling single of all time?
The cast and crew of Irving Berlin's White Christmas at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, that's who, thanks to captivating singers, dazzling dance numbers, gorgeous costumes and beautiful sets. And, of course, the tunes — Sisters, Snow, We'll Follow the Old Man, White Christmas and more.
The story line is the same — two World War II buddies make it big singing and dancing in showbiz and find true love with singing and dancing sisters in a remote Vermont ski resort.
But stage script writers David Ives and Paul Blake simplified the story (without losing any of its essential elements) and director/musical director William Garon grabbed parts of several different adaptations of the screen version, adding Berlin songs not in the movie, several huge production numbers with lots of Darlene Widner's colorful costumes and choreographer Shanna Sell's fancy footwork, a couple of hilarious comedy characters, all done by a superb cast, so 10 minutes into the show, you feel you're experiencing something you've never seen before — and loving every minute of it.
Even so, there may be mental comparisons now and then, as familiar characters show up. That deja vu feeling fades quickly, though, as the actors make the characters their own and the fast-paced show moves right along with still another eye-popping dance number or twist of events.
Credit Garon for casting young Show Palace newcomers Alexander Nathan as the uptight Bob Wallace and Elliot Peterson as the skirt-chasing Phil Davis, who make it clear from the get-go that this musical belongs to them, not some long-ago Hollywood guys. Nathan is a charmer, if not exactly a crooner, and Peterson is a swell dancer, singer and comedian. They're matched in talent by Lauren Culver as the romantically cautious Betty Haynes, who ultimately falls for Bob, and Janet Wiggins as her coquettish sister, Judy, who falls for Phil on the spot.
Ms. Culver's warm voice and sincerity shine in Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me, and Ms. Wiggins is lovely dancing with the smooth-stepping Peterson in The Best Things Happen When You're Dancing and I Love a Piano.
Rick Kistner is delightful as the tough ol' general, Henry Waverly, owner of the financially faltering Vermont inn and the former commanding officer of the Army unit where Wallace and Davis once served. Gruff one minute and soft as snow the next, Kistner makes the general funny, appealing and human. Pamela Faye is a darling as Martha, the sharp-tongued secretary/desk clerk at the inn. Ms. Faye's Martha was a singer/dancer many a year ago, and she sparkles as she belts Let Me Sing and I'm Happy, strutting around the stage and kicking up her heels like a kid.
Preteen Megan Sell is a dear as the saucy Susan, granddaughter of the general and an aspiring historian — until she discovers she loves showbiz and steals the scene doing her own Let Me Sing and I'm Happy. Derek Baxter is, as always, super as the ambitious producer/talent agent Sheldrake. Andi Sperduti Garner and Kate O'Connell are cuties as Rita and Rhoda, the giggling showgirls who flirt with all the fellows.
The engine driving the show, though, are those great big dance numbers, particularly the visually luscious Blue Skies closing Act 1 and the startling black-and-white motif in I Love a Piano opening Act 2. The soundtracks feature real musical instruments (not synthesizers) that make all the difference. And Tom Hansen's gorgeous sets and lights on the new, expanded stage provide the perfect backdrop for this marvelous show.
Kudos, too, to chefs Dinah Teaford and Rick Dargie and their crew for the yummy buffet that shows what they can do when they have the right ingredients. Note especially the Caesar salad and well-prepared fish, ham and turkey. Also noteworthy is the new, uplit wall decor behind the buffet, a Hansen design.
Director Garon says that some opening night crackles in the sound system have been tracked down and addressed, so that one annoying flaw should be absent for future audiences.