We Angelinos may not be waking up to snow on our lawns this Christmas season, but snowflakes (or a close equivalent of them) will be falling on L.A. and Orange County heads throughout December at the Segerstrom Center For The Arts, where the National Tour of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas has just settled in for a three-week visit.

For anyone growing up in the pre-VCR era, White Christmas (the movie) was an eagerly awaited holiday TV tradition, and with DVDs viewable year-round, I’d venture to guess that many if not most in the audience will be familiar with its show biz plot. (David Ives and Paul Blake’s book sticks close to the movie’s screenplay by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank.) Bob Wallace and Phil Davis are Army buddies headlining a Christmas show for the troops somewhere in Europe in December of 1944. The event is also a sendoff for retiring Major General Thomas F. Waverly, beloved by his fighting men. Cut to ten years later, with Bob and Phil having made it big in nightclubs, radio, and TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. A letter from a former army buddy asks them to audition sister act Betty and Judy Haines, which they do, and are suitably impressed even after it turns out that the letter was actually written by Judy. A series of unexpected mishaps has all four arriving in unseasonably warm Vermont at the Columbia Inn, whose owner turns out to be none other than … General Waverly! In true show biz plot tradition, the Inn is in financial trouble and what better way to get it back in the black again than (can you guess?) put on a show! Further complications ensue—and love blooms in record time for our two heroes with our two heroines.

There are indeed Christmas songs in White Christmas, though not as many as you might think. There’s the title tune (the Academy Award-winning second-best selling single of all time), “Happy Holiday,” and “Snow.” That’s all. The rest are Berlin standards, including a few not in the movie but added to the stage musical, including “Blue Skies,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing, “Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “I Love A Piano” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.” How’s that for a medley of Berlin hits?

The production now on display at the Segerstrom is a Grade-A, Broadway-caliber National Tour, one which tops any of the regional productions you might have caught in terms of production values and performances, all of which are terrific with a capital T.


Under Norb Joerder’s assured direction, a quartet of Broadway vets bring to splendid life the characters originated on the screen by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen. Stephen R. Buntrock and David Elder couldn’t be better as longtime buddies Bob and Phil. Elder in particular dazzles in one big tap number after another, particularly with the delightful Shannon M. O’Bryan’s Judy by his side or in his arms. As for Haynes sister Betty, a marvelous Stefanie Morse (who just happens to be a native Angelino and a Hollywood High/UCLA grad) brings some of the most velvety rich pipes around to “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and has great Hepburn-Tracy chemistry opposite Buntrock.

No one plays housekeeper/receptionist Martha (or just about any part for that matter) better than Ruth Williamson, who brings an Eve Arden sass to the role, as well as that rich Williamson alto, showcased in “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy” and “Falling Out Of Love Can Be Fun,” the latter performed in Andrews Sisters’ harmonies with Morse and O’Bryan.

Supporting players are equally fine—Joseph Costa as venerable General Waverly, Caroline Farley as pint-sized belter Susan, Tony Lawson as Army buddy Ralph Sheldrake, Richard Pruitt as slow-moving Vermonter Ezekiel (and Snoring Man), and Don Rey in various cameos, most notably the flamboyant stage manager Mike McNulty. Melinda Cowan and Amanda Paulson delight as the bubbly, bubble-headed Rita and Rhoda.

As for the song-and-dance ensemble, you won’t see a more talented or indefatigable bunch of triple threats than Cowan, Paulson, Jeremy Benton (Regency Room dancer), Scott Brateng (Regency Room dancer), Barry Busby, Con O’Shea-Creal (Regency Room dancer), Brandon Davidson (Regency Room dancer), Jenny Florkowski, Janelle Neal, Denise Nolin (Mrs. Snoring Man, Quintet), Ashley Peacock, Lisa Rohinsky, Matthew Schneider (Jimmy), Kelly Sheehan, Lindsie VanWinkle (Tessie), Merrill West, and Richard Riaz Yoder.

And boy, does choreographer Randy (42nd Street) Skinner give these sensational hoofers a workout, in tap number after tap number, from the Ed Sullivan show’s “Let Yourself Go,” to the Act One closer “Blue Skies,” to the Act Two opener “I Love A Piano,” to the curtain call tap extravaganza “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.”  (Swings Andrew Black and Lea Kohl double as dance captains.)

Musical director John Visser conducts a pitch-perfect pit orchestra of mostly local musicians. Scenic designer Kenneth Foy has skillfully adapted Anna Louizos’s Broadway set design for touring needs. Carrie Robbins’ 1950s costumes are as gorgeous and colorful as it gets. Lighting designer Ken Billington and sound designer Peter Fitzgerald score high marks as well for making White Christmas such a dazzler.

John W. Calder, III is production stage manager, Sarah Marshall stage manager, and Elena Russo assistant stage manager.

With its topnotch cast and memorable songs, White Christmas makes for an all-around splendiferous way to celebrate the holidays. After all, when all is said and done, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, now would it?

Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.

–Steven Stanley
December 13, 2011
Photos: Carder Photography

Comments are closed.