On Theater: 'White Christmas' is sumptuous holiday treat

Over his prolific century on this planet, Irving Berlin composed many memorable songs, including the best-selling record in history.

That would be "White Christmas," introduced by Bing Crosby in the 1942 movie "Holiday Inn" and identified with the crooner for the rest of his career, most notably in Crosby's 1954 flick "White Christmas," which now, after all these years, has become a Broadway musical.

The touring version of that show, now in residence at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, is a sumptuous holiday treat, reconfiguring the movie plot and adding a few show-stopping surprises. We may not have a white Christmas in Orange County, but we have one in abundance at the center, including the climactic snowfall, shared with the orchestra section of the audience.

The vintage Crosby-Danny Kaye movie has been given a shot of adrenaline by director Norb Joerder and choreographer Randy Skinner, whose precision-packed toe-tapping chorus line reaps hearty applause in its specialty segments. Even the borrowed "Blue Skies" (from the 1946 Crosby film of that title) is transformed into a huge production number that closes the first act.

"White Christmas" focuses on a former Army captain (Stephen R. Buntrock) and his ex-private sidekick (David Elder), now a successful song and dance act, who find themselves in a snowless Vermont at the height of the skiing season.

They've been rerouted from Florida by Elder and a pair of singing sisters (Stefanie Morse in the Rosemary Clooney role and Shannon M. O'Bryan, from the Broadway cast, in the light-footed part created by Vera-Ellen).

And who should be in command at the inn but their old general (Joseph Costa), who's still demanding spit-and-polish performance from his underlings. Make that one underling – Ruth Williamson as the Mary Wickes character, whose duties have been delightfully expanded. She cracks wise like Eve Arden and sings like Ethel Merman.

The smooth reserve of Buntrock plays nicely against the more manic, girl-hungry Elder as they plan a barnyard show to get the old man out of debt. Morse starts out a bit ditzy, but settles into her mother hen character, while O'Bryan is a standout with her sunny personality and flying feet.

Another special treat is 11-year old Caroline Farley as the general's precocious granddaughter, who emerges as a super-cute show stopper. This young lady (who shares the role with Maria Knasel) is destined for stardom.

Don't expect the general's old unit to show up en mass and in uniform. That's your job, the audience, in a clever, cost-saving measure. It's just the two leads and their buddy Don Rey, who is everywhere in this show, who helm the climactic segment.

This production reaches deep into the Berlin songbook to add more of his recognizable classics to the score – including a snippet of "There's No Business Like Show Business," dashed off by Williamson's well-crafted character. "How Deep is the Ocean" and "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" find their way onto the stage as well.

Plot elements remain largely intact, save for the reason behind the lovers' obligatory breakup, brought into the 21st century by adapters David Ives and Paul Blake. Those who remember the movie fondly will make the connection easily.

If you're dreaming of a "White Christmas," this delightfully fast-paced and funny frolic will make those wishes come true.

TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: At 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays until Jan. 1 (no performances on Christmas Day but there will be a special staging at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 26)

Ticket information: Tickets start at $20 and can be purchased by calling (714) 557-2787 or going online to SCFTA.org

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