What a festive way to start the season! Musical Theatre West’s production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas delivers everything you could want in a holiday musical– excellent singing, dancing, romance, humor– even snow! Continuing through this weekend, White Christmas is the rare holiday musical that also offers a compelling story.
Based on the film White Christmas, and with its book by David Ives and Paul Blake, White Christmas: The Musical tells the 1954 story of how performers Bob Wallace (David Engel) and Phil Davis (Jeffrey Scott Parsons) meet musical sisters Judy and Betty Haynes (Tro Shaw and Rebecca Johnson), and end up in a remote Vermont inn rather than sunny Florida to produce a grand holiday show. And who runs the inn but their former 1944 army general, Henry Waverly (Tom Shelton).
Skillfully directed by Walter Robbie, romantic tensions and crossed messages create drama and humor for these affable characters. The story is infused with Irving Berlin’s melodic tunes and lyrics from start to finish, and the orchestra, directed by Dennis Castellano– who also delivers a line or two as a train conductor (get it?)– plays from on the stage, so its sounds are especially resonant.
Joining the main characters are sharp-witted innkeeper Martha (Cathy Newman), her young and precocious niece Susie (Ciara Tadeo) visiting from California, and an ensemble of about 20 additional performers, who contribute an exceptional amount of talent to this energetic production.
All the performers are uniformly excellent in acting, singing and dancing. Parsons as Phil is roguishly charming, clearly delighting in performing. He shines in “I Love a Piano,” a tap-dancing duet with Judy (Shaw). He and Shaw also deliver a high-octane rendition of “The Best Things Happen When You Dance.”
Engel as the slightly more mature Wallace is staid but equally fluid in his movements, with a captivating voice. An especially warm moment is when he sings “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” as a lullaby to worried young Susie, as Betty (Johnson) looks on, moved by his thoughtfulness.
Johnson as Betty later gets her own spotlight in a fancy nightclub with the sultry but sad “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” as Bob (Engel) sings “How Deep is the Ocean” in harmonic counterpoint.
Martha (Newman), Susie (Tadeo) and the general (Shelton) hold their own as unique characters and singers as well, their own aspirations and dilemmas contributing to the drama and enjoyment of the story. Tadeo provides a touchstone to younger members of the audience with her enchanting gumption.
Period costumes (Debbie Roberts) are beautifully rendered and transporting, with dapper suits and swirly, sparkly dresses. Original choreography (Lisa Hopkins) is also inspiring, and precisely and gleefully executed by the whole cast.
Musical Theatre West’s must-see White Christmas will entertain, amuse and move audiences, old and young alike. If you are dreaming of a white Christmas (as another Berlin song goes) look no farther than the Carpenter Center, where dreams do come true, but only through this weekend!
Musical Theatre West’s White Christmas continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton Street, through Dec. 10, with performances Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm & 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm. Tickets are $20 to $90. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 856-1999 x4 or visit musical.org.