On Theater: 'Christmas' evokes cozy memories

Back in 1951, Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli put together a movie composed entirely of George Gershwin music. The result, "An American in Paris," won the Oscar for Best Picture of that year.

Three years later, Hollywood took another shot at this format, this time choosing Irving Berlin's many musical contributions. "White Christmas" didn't win the Oscar, but its story and melodies linger on, particularly Bing Crosby warbling the title tune.

Currently, "White Christmas" is being celebrated again in a sparkling production at Golden West College, where director-choreographer Martie Ramm brings the show's familiar characters back to life. The stage version mirrors the movie in most respects, but veers off course on occasion just enough to underscore its credibility.

Borrowing the "let's put on a show" format of countless Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals, not to mention Garland's "Summer Stock," this holiday treat centers on a pair of Army buddies turned postwar song-and-dance men. They're lured up north to be the yuletide entertainment at a Vermont inn — only to find the temperature at 79 degrees and no snow.

As if that wasn't shocking enough, the boys find that the inn is run by their old commanding officer, a retired general who still makes his troops stand tall. The place is bleeding money and a transfusion is urgently needed. So, "Let's put on a show."

Paul Rorie and Aaron Lyons slip comfortably into the roles created by Crosby and Danny Kaye, contrasting characters whose differing traits define them. Rorie's introverted ex-captain handles the heavy end of the singing, while the more extroverted Lyons shows his prowess on the dance floor.

They're matched with a pair of singing ladies who mirror the guys' personalities. Michelle Zelina nicely interprets the more rational, and skittish, older sister while Shawna Skipps handles the dancing chores. Zelina is the most accomplished vocalist of the quartet, beautifully offering such Berlin classics as "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" and "How Deep Is the Ocean?"

Upstaging all four of them is Jeannine Barba as the inn's telephone operator and frustrated would-be musical star. She rocks the house with a stirring rendition of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" and scores with a plethora of comical zingers.

Steve De Forest enacts the old general with an air of exhausted authority, striving to maintain order in a sea of chaos. Brigham Hughes lends strong support as the old Army buddy who arranges the surprise show, while Nina Ramos and Tasha Skipps contribute some kooky comedy as chorines with their eyes on Lyons.

A word now about Maggie Rose McDougall, who played the general's granddaughter in only one performance — the one this reviewer attended. This 11-year-old entertainer overflows with effervescence and polish, shining brightly in her reprise of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy." She has a lustrous future ahead of her.

"White Christmas" also is distinguished by Ramm's ensemble of chorus girls, who kick up their heels with constant precision. They particularly brighten the familiar "Blue Skies" solo from Rorie, which closes the first act.

There are a few necessary plot twists, but basically "White Christmas" is the same show you may have enjoyed with Crosby, Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen nearly 60 years ago. It's an early Christmas present from Golden West College.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "White Christmas"

Where: Golden West College, Huntington Beach

When: Closing performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $20 to $22

Information: (714) 895-8150 or http://www.gwctheater.com

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