By Alan Bresloff
Highly Recommended *****
What a week! Just days after watching "Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin", we moved out to Oakbrook to view a spectacular production of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas, the Musical"! Talk about a week to remember! This is it, for sure! Tis the season to be jolly and all of our regional theaters are bringing out the holiday themed shows. "White Christmas, the Musical" has of course the most famous of all holiday songs. By the way, the song was from an earlier Berlin musical movie, "Holiday Inn" back in 1942. Speed forward to 1954 and that is where "White Christmas, the Musical" began to hit the public in the film. The story begins in 1944. The war is just about over and the troops heading home. Our two main characters, song and dance men Bob Wallace (deftly handled by the smooth Sean Allan Krill) and Phil Davis (a solid performance by Matt Raftery, who most of us know as a choreographer/director and often ensemble member, who in this production shows his leading man qualities) are off to New York to get back to entertaining.
They are seeking a female act for their new show and go to see the Haynes Sisters (wonderful performances by Gina Milo as Betty and Erica Stephan as Judy). They are both beautiful, have great voices and strong personalities- It is obvious why the guys fall in love with them. I know I did! Through trickery, the guys end up following them to an INN in Vermont where they are booked to entertain the skiers. Alas, there is a heat wave and there are no guests, as there is no snow. Turns out that the Inn is owned by their former General, Henry Waverly (another dynamic performance by the always reliable Don Forston) and as we learn, he is in financial trouble. The boys get in touch with some of their old army buddies and plan a surprise to Bail out the General and as you know, just like a fairy tale, they all live happily ever after.
What makes a play like this work? A director who truly understands the warm and fuzzy book (Paul Blake and David Ives) and of course the music and lyrics of one amazing musician, Irving Berlin. Just think; in addition to the title song, "Sister", "Blue Skies". "Count Your Blessing instead of Sheep", "How Deep is the Ocean", "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm", " I Love A Piano" (this particular number as choreographed by Matt Crowle, is a show stopper that is worth the price of the ticket, alone!) and many more. William Osetek directs with the skill of a painter as he brushes a masterpiece on the canvas. The canvas in this particular show is the set designed by Kevin Depinet with great lighting (Lee Fiskness), amazing costumes (Robert Kuhn) and perfect sound( Ray Nardelli), Roberta Duchak, as always handles the music direction and the Drury Lane Orchestra is conducted by Valerie Maze, who makes ten musicians sound like thirty.
Great music, great set, great leading men and ladies are just the start. It is the cast in total, from the ensemble up that fills the Drury Lane with the energy of the past. Some of Chicago's favorite character actors are in this production. The always fabulousAlene Robertson as Martha Watson, the General's assistant and love interest. Her singing brings back memories of her leading roles on this stage as well as the others (Marriott and Candlelight). Speaking of Candlelight, Dale Benson, who has been around Chicago stages for a long long time, once again proves it is not what you say, but how you say it, or in this case, don't say it, that can bring an audience to their feet. He, as always is amazing in a part that really has no importance to the show, but with Benson in the role, it is a starring part!
Other cast members who you will want to watch, Maya Lou Hlava (what a strong voice from such a little girl) and on alternate performances Avery Moss as Susan Waverly, the General's granddaughter, Harry Bouvy, Matt Crowle, Leryn Turlington, Carol Rose Durkin, Allyson Graves, Josh Kohane, Devin DeSantis, Hannah Rose Nardone, Raymond Interior, Courtney Cerny, William Carlos Angulo, Annie Jo Ermel, Sean Michael Hunt and Amy Orman. Many of these actors play numerous roles and are involved in many ensemble numbers with solid tap and other dance numbers. If you have yet to plan for the holidays, I suggest that you put "White Christmas, the Musical" on your list for Santa. I am sure he would agree. I know that I do!