“White Christmas”

Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Highly Recommended ****  Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” is back in town for a short stay at The Cadillac Palace Theatre as part of the Broadway In Chicago season. Based on the film written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank with the music and lyrics of the great Irving Berlin, this musical stage version has a book by David Ives and Paul Blake. The story is the same- a couple of song and dance men who served during World War II together, by strange events end up in a Vermont Ski Resort that is owned by their old General. He is in dire straights and they put on a musical to save the day…and the lodge.

It is a pretty hokey story, but one that plays well, in particular at this time of year when people are thinking happy thoughts. Let’s face it, with the events that we read and hear about every day, we need as much diversion as we can get, and “holiday cheer” works! Live theater is the best diversion I can think of. Berlin’s music is more than enough to take our minds off the daily news. Songs such as “Sisters”, “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”, “How Deep Is The Ocean”, “The Old Man”, “Happy Holidays” , “Blue Skies”, “I Love A Piano” ( a tremendous TAP number featuring Phil and Judy along with the ensemble), “White Christmas” and many others. With a song book like this, who can ask for anything more?

The song and dance men who were mentioned earlier, Bob Wallace (played by Sean Montgomery, who almost sounded like “Der Bingle* to start with , but then came on to his own voice-and it is superb) and his partner Phil Davis (the incredible Jeremy Benton, quite the song and dance man) work well together. In fact, they almost made me forget Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby (the actors in the original movie version). The women in their lives, a sister-act The Haynes sisters are played by,  Kelly Sheehan (Judy, quite the dancer herself, who pairs up with Phil) and the lovely Kerry Conte (as Betty who can warble with the best of them, who ends up with Bob).

The General is played to perfection by a man who many know from his TV days as John Schuck (remember McMillan and Wife?), but now his name is Conrad John Schuck. I loved him in this role and must tell you that his final speech, despite all the happiness of this show , is a two tissue one. His Inn Manager is played by Karen Ziemba ( a powerhouse singer/dancer who raises the roof when she performs “Let Me Sing and I’ll Be Happy” (very Ethel Merman-ish) and the General’s adorable granddaughter Susan is played by Makayla Joy Connolly (alternate Bella Yantis) who is a dynamo herself!

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

The ensemble is very important to a production such as this, and Director/Choreographer Randy Skinner has put together a powerhouse of performers to make this show appear brighter than it has in previous runs. Cliff Bemis is the character actor that garners lots of laughs for his role as Ezekiel, Gil Brady does a splendid job as buddy Ralph Sheldrake and then we have Aaron Galligan-Stierle, Laurie DiFilippo, Darien Crago, Stephanie Brooks, Kelly Black, Matthew J. Kilgore, Bryan Thomas Hunt, Drew Humphry, Sarah Fagan, Chris McNiff, Danny McHugh, Ann-Ngaire Martin, Brianna Latrash, Chelsea Williams, Sean Quinn, Ikristyn Pope and Ibryan Charles Moore- great dancers and singers.

The sets, lighting and sound (there was a mic problem early in the show) were for the most part Broadway quality, but we did hear some backstage movement of scenery in the second act that needs to be cleared up as they run this show here and the towns they will move to. Speaking of sound, something new has been added to tap dancing (it seems every theater is now using this)- microphones on the taps shoes. I am not sure how this is done, but must tell you the sound is amazing and make the tap numbers, always a standout, even more exciting to watch ( and hear ). By the way, the audience really finds the ending of this production very special with a surprise from above. There are people who confuse this with the other Berlin musical “Holiday Inn”- very close, but I think “White Christmas” is a far better show.

“White Christmas” will continue at The Cadillac Palace Theatre located at 151 West Randolph Street ( just west of LaSalle Street) through December 3rd with performances as follows:

Tuesdays  7:30 p.m.

Wednesdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.

Thursdays  7:30 p.m.

Fridays  7:30 p.m.

Saturdays  2 and 7:30 p.m.

Sundays  2 p.m.

Tickets range from $18- $100 making this very “family friendly” and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticktline at 800-775-2000 or online at http://www.BroadwayInChicago.com