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REVIEW: Drury Lane's cozy 'White Christmas' dishes out holiday cheer

November 08, 2015 at 6:30 AM

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By Scott C. Morgan

It's a little ironic that many of America's most memorable Christmas carols were created by Jewish songwriters. The title alone of the 2004 stage musical "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" is a potent reminder of this fact, and local audiences can revel in that welcome contradiction thanks to a funny and sentimental production now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Catchy carols such as "Happy Holiday," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm" and the massively successful title song all show how Berlin's artistic influence remains woven into our collective Christmastime consciousness. And though the stage musical is inspired by the 1954 film "White Christmas" -- which in turn was a remake of the 1942 film "Holiday Inn" -- it also doubles as a showcase of Berlin's greatest hits.

Songs like "Blue Skies," "Let Yourself Go" and "I Love a Piano" have been shoehorned in with razzle-dazzle production numbers filled with plenty of pleasing tap-dancing pizazz thanks to Matt Crowle, who serves as the show's choreographer and stars as comically high-strung stage manager Mike Nulty. "White Christmas" also highlights many of the film's most memorable songs, including the tender lullaby "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep," the nightclub routine "Sister" and its comical mincing reprise.

Director William Osetek skillfully oversees "White Christmas" with top-notch performers. Sean Allan Krill and Matt Raftery are great as the celebrity song-and-dance men Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who fall for performing Haynes sisters Betty (a headstrong Gina Milo) and Judy (a wryly sarcastic Erica Stephan).
Watching this attractive quartet flirt, argue and fall in love is one of the show's primary pleasures. They all also sing and dance with assured vigor.

The four come together to help former World War II general Henry Waverly (Don Forston), whose Vermont inn has fallen on hard times, Wallace and Davis, who served under Waverly, stage a show and call on other former soldiers to help. The show-within-a-show brings on the glitz and also serves to tug on the heartstrings of American patriotism.

Drury Lane's "White Christmas" has been blessed with the return of actress Alene Robertson, who knocks the show's humor out of the park as the busybody clerk Martha Watson. Robertson's punchy and perfectly inflected comic timing is a wonder throughout, as is her big, booming voice in the solo number "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy."

Also driving the audience into gales of laughter is veteran actor Dale Benson and his often-indecipherable take on the ancient farm hand Ezekiel Foster. Leryln Turlington and Carol Rose Durkin both win some laughs as the none-too-bright chorines Rita and Rhoda.

Though some minor scenic mishaps marred the opening night performance with a visible stagehand tidying up a wayward curtain and an "Ed Sullivan Show" logo refusing to glide off in time, Drury Lane's production values are strong as usual.
If the assembled songs drawn from many sources in Berlin's long career are unassailable in "White Christmas," the framing script by David Ives and Paul Blake is much more by-the-numbers as it borders on bland. Conflicts are fairly lightweight, and any complications have all-too-easy resolutions.

But for audiences who want their holiday entertainment to function as comfort food mixed with melodic nostalgia, Drury Lane Theatre's polished take on "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" should hit the spot.

A lovely bit of holiday fluff is always welcome.