By Colin Douglas
The snow's falling a little earlier this year up in Oakbrook Terrace. Drury Lane's newest offering is a stage adaptation of the 1954 film classic and a beautiful, sparkling Christmas confection to kick off the holiday season. This is a warm, old-fashioned, highly-recommended family musical brimming with freshness, spectacle and heart. The score offers a stocking stuffed with musical treats from the Irving Berlin songbook. The story's about two show biz couples who fall in love while trying to save a struggling Vermont lodge. But the film's blend of sophistication and folksiness, humor and heartfelt moments and all its favorite characters nicely drive the plot from tender ballad to big production number. The result is like a trip home for the holidays.
Director William Osetek works theatrical magic once again with his brilliantly talented cast of 25 triple threats. He carefully and lovingly stages his production highlighting each and every character, while collectively showcasing his hardworking ensemble. Multitalented Jeff Award-winning triple-threat Matt Crowle not only choreographs the dickens out of every dance number (his "I Love a Piano" absolutely brings down the house), but also plays several comic roles.
Most notably Mr. Crowle warms the stage as addled Mike Nulty, the perfectionist stage manager of the show-within-the-show. Kevin Depinet's stylish scenic design includes a plushly curtained false proscenium, as well as a train, a NYC nightclub and the Vermont inn, where the snow-filled Christmas show unfolds. Talented costumer Robert Kuhn makes his esteemed Drury Lane debut with flash and elegance, creating a colorful, sophisticated period-perfect palette of fashions from the 50's. Mr. Kuhn's black-and-white themed wardrobe for the opening of Act II are as show-stopping as Crowle's choreography.
Mr. Osetek's cast includes a sleigh load of Chicago's very best, led by handsome, talented, charismatic crooner Sean Allan Krill as Bob Wallace, the role created by Bing Crosby. He's joined by topnotch singer/dancer Matt Raftery, as Phil Davis (in the Danny Kaye role), in his much-welcome return to the stage. Both actors share a special chemistry as this comic, song-and-dance team, but their individual pairing with their romantic costars cannot be denied. Often stopping the show with lovely, talented Gina Milo as Judy Haynes, the role made famous by Vera-Ellen, Mr. Raftery and his partner bring excitement and poetry-in-motion to the stage. Lovely Drury Lane newcomer, Erica Stephan makes her auspicious debut as Judy Haynes, the Rosemary Clooney role. Her performance of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me" is both soulful and beautifully performed. Mr. Krill and Ms. Stephen bring old-fashioned style and romance to numbers like "Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep" and "How Deep is the Ocean," while everyone has a go with the title song, "White Christmas," "Blue Skies" and the delightful "Sisters."
However it's the veteran Chicagoans who steal this production. Lovable, deadpan comedienne and belter Alene Robertson, as salty, wisecracking Martha Watson, is the brains behind the inn, sparkling as the star on top of this dazzling Christmas tree of a show. Ms. Robertson's show-stopping performance of "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy"
brings a smile to everyone (as does Maya Lou Hlava, as young Susan Waverly, in her walloping reprise of the song). Don Forston is impressively commanding as retired General Henry Waverly, the owner of the Vermont bed-and-breakfast. Mr. Forston's speech delivered to his men in Act II is heartfelt and honestly moving. But it's Dale Benson's cameo as slow-moving handyman Ezekiel Foster who often stops the show with his funny, monosyllabic New Englander quips.
The holiday season may be just beginning (earlier and earlier each year, it seems), but this glorious, star-studded production is bound to encourage audiences to haul out the holly and begin composing letters to Santa. This sweetly old-fashioned musical, filled with welcome delights from the Irving Berlin songbook, is performed with panache and pizzazz. And while William Osetek's production manages to feel fresh and contemporary, it's seasoned with just the right touch of sentimentality and heart. It's a warm, glittering commencement to the Christmas season for audiences of all ages.