A grand dose of warmhearted nostalgia and fantastic tap dancing fuels the infectious vibrancy within the national tour of the 2009 Tony Award-nominated musical “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” the Broadway caliber season opener of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Partners Broadway Series presented at the Schuster Center.
Sharply staged by Norb Joerder and faithfully adapted by Tony nominee David Ives (“Venus in Fur”) and Paul Blake from the 1954 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name, “White Christmas” tells an engaging if old-fashioned tale of song-and-dance duo Bob Wallace (James Clow) and Phil Davis (David Elder), close-knit World War II veterans who partner with singing sisters Betty Haynes (Stefanie Morse) and Judy Haynes (Mara Davi) to raise money for a struggling Vermont inn run by Bob and Phil’s stern yet sincere former commanding general. Romance, wisecracks and misunderstanding are key components in the hokey, simple plot greatly accented by some of Berlin’s finest songs. The film’s familiar treasures are here (“Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Sisters,” “Snow” and the title song) along with toe-tapping extras from the vast Berlin canon such as “Happy Holiday,” “Love and the Weather,” “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.”
Berlin’s tunes, overflowing with charm and tenderness, are certainly a main attraction, but Randy Skinner’s Tony-nominated choreography, brilliantly executed with crisp preciseness and debonair finesse, simply dazzles. The breezy “Let Yourself Go” effortlessly sets a spirited tone for the evening. The elegant, jazzy “Blue Skies” and the terrifically cute “I Love a Piano” are applause-inducing knockouts recalling Skinner’s remarkable contributions to the 2001 Broadway revival of “42nd Street,” which memorably featured Elder, a radiant tenor, as Billy Lawlor.
Further, it’s not surprising this show clicks as well as it does because its leading players, a dandy group of Broadway standouts, are no strangers to the material. Elder portrayed the good-natured Phil on tour three years ago. Clow, Morse and Davi appeared in the Broadway production along with Ruth Williamson (Martha Watson) and Cliff Bemis (Mr. Snoring Man/Ezekiel Foster). When they join forces their chemistry and camaraderie is palpable. In fact, Elder and Davi, exceptional dancers, create Fred and Ginger sparks while gliding across the stage in “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing.” Clow (an appealingly awkward Bob) and Morse are equally strong in a classy scene comprising the lovely torch song “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” (beautifully sung by Morse) and “How Deep is the Ocean.” The wonderfully earthy Williamson, a hilarious Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in the 2000 Broadway revival of “The Music Man,” belts “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” with gusto. Bemis scores his share of laughs in tailor-made roles. Joseph Costa is austerely authoritative and genuinely touching as General Waverly. Tony Lawson as Ralph Sheldrake, Kilty Reidy in multiple roles and the fittingly precocious, vocally pleasant Andie Mechanic as Susan Waverly are also notable. It’s particularly great to see Wright State University alumna Darien Crago among the first-rate ensemble.
This strikingly designed recreation of the Broadway production features attractive costumes by Carrie Robbins, proficient lighting by Ken Billington and Kenneth Foy’s seamless adaptation of Anna Louizos’ colorful sets. Musical director Michael Horsley’s conducts an excellent orchestra.
“Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” continues through Dec. 2 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Act One: 80 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $15-$101. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com