Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is back for a second year at the Norris Center For The Performing Arts with its four fantastic leads intact, the same sensational direction and choreography, designs like those you’d expect in the best regional theater productions, and—brand new this time round—a live pit orchestra. There may be other White Christmases around town this time of year, but this is the one to see, or see again.

45115_458541170847847_1334522304_n For many Americans, it simply wouldn’t be December without an annual viewing of the Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye holiday movie classic White Christmas, and for the past nine years, theatergoers have been able to experience this seasonal favorite live and in person in the delightful stage adaptation now back on the Norris Center stage.

David Ives and Paul Blake’s book sticks close to the movie’s screenplay by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama, and Melvin Frank, introducing us to Bob Wallace (Brent Schindele) and Phil Davis (David Lamoureux), 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 (Michael Prohaska), 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.

432238_458541034181194_2133663943_n A letter from a former army buddy asks them to audition sister act Betty and Judy Haines (Gail Bennett and Tro Shaw), 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 Irving Berlin’s 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 “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.” a few of which were not in the movie but added to the stage musical. How’s that for a medley of Berlin hits?

WC_B0013 copy WC_B0344 copy Musical leading men don’t come any more All-American handsome and talented than Schindele, whose leading lady is once again the enchanting Bennett. The duo shine even more brightly this year in duets “Love And The Weather” and “Count Your Blessings Instead Of Sheep” and singing in counterpoint “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and “How Deep Is The Ocean.” That they have great chemistry is icing on the cake.

313502_458541157514515_1559771038_n Chemistry is sizzling too between Lamoureux and Shaw, who get the show’s Fred-and-Ginger song and dance numbers “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “I Love A Piano.” Lamoureux, winner last year of a special Quintuple-Threat Talent Of The Year Scenie, again proves himself a song-and-dance whiz in addition to his prodigious talents as both director and musical director, a tall, lanky comedic lead in the Ray Bolger tradition, and Shaw makes for an even more terrific Judy in 2013 with her petite charm, taptastic footwork, and big Broadway voice.

WC_B0328 copy Polly Seale is as fabulous as ever as housekeeper/receptionist Martha, who gets to belt out “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy” and “Falling Out Of Love Can Be Fun,” the latter performed in Andrews Sisters’ harmonies with Bennett and Shaw.

Supporting players are some of Southern California’s best. Prohaska as venerable General Waverly, Kevin Paul as Army buddy Ralph Sheldrake, and Karl Jaecke as slow-moving Vermonter Ezekiel all make return appearances, with fresh new supporting turns by Ashley Jewell Reynolds as pint-sized belter Susan, Michael Starr as harried stage manager Mike McNulty, and Jane Papageorge and dance captain Nicole Manley as the bubbly, bubble-headed Rita and Rhoda.

483446_458541197514511_1016855832_n Directed with return engagement holiday flair by Randy Brenner and featuring some of the most sensational choreography in town by Kami Seymour, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Norris is highlighted by 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.”

It’s hard to imagine a New York City ensemble any finer than Southern California triple-threats Nick Adorno (Conductor), Bernadette Bentley (Cigarette Girl), Andrea Dodson (Mrs. Snoring Man), Cori Cable Kidder, Adam Mantell (Mr. Snoring Man, Scooter), Morgan McGeehan, Robert Ramirez (Jimmy, Dance Captain), Libby Snyder, Miller Tai (Ed Sullivan Announcer), Amy Trgovac (Tessie), and Matt Wiley, all but Dodson new for 2013 and even she gets a new track to play.

522708_458543307514300_1697075330_n Musical director Daniel Thomas once again gets topnotch vocal performances from all, and unlike last year when I wrote, “One does miss having a live orchestra instead of prerecorded tracks,” this year’s White Christmas is blessed with live musicians provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas looks and sounds great at the Norris thanks to a terrific scenic design (backdrops provided by Candlelight Pavilion), a bevy of colorful costumes provided by The Enchanted Attic and coordinated by Christina Bayer, vivid lighting by local whiz Christina Munich, and oodles of ‘50s wigs by Anthony Gagliardi.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is produced by James W. Gruessing, Jr. Chris Warren Murry is stage manager, Greg Forbess technical director, and Stacy Hennon assistant technical director.

When all is said and done, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, and you won’t see a better White Christmas than White Christmas at the Norris.

Norris Center For The Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.

–Steven Stanley
December 6, 2013
Photos: Ed Krieger


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