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REVIEW: Retro Walk in White Christmas (Ordway)

Photo by Rich Ryan Photography.

It is only fitting that our first major snowfall occurred the same night that the Ordway’s White Christmas opened.  This locally produced show is a revival of the Ordway’s 2008 production.  Director James A. Rocco and Musical Director Jeff Rizzo combine their talents with Irving Berlin’s music, David Ives’ and Paul Black’s book, a talented cast, and terrific dancing to produce this delightful holiday treat.

Dieter Bierbrauer as Bob Wallace shares with Brian Sostek as Phil Davis in White Christmas. Photo by Rich Ryan.

The musical is based on the 1954 movie of the same name starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.  In this production, Dieter Bierbrauer plays the Crosby role of Bob Wallace and Brian Sostek plays the Kaye role of Phil Davis.  The show starts with Bob and Phil doing a Christmas show in 1944 for their military division in Europe during World War II, under the command of General Henry Waverly, and fast-forwards to 1954.  Bob and Phil have become a successful singing and dance duo who produce their own stage shows and are favorites with The Ed Sullivan Show.  Receiving a request to check out a girl singing act who are sisters of an old war buddy, Bob and Phil meet sisters Betty and Judy Haynes.  Bob is instantly attracted to Betty (Ann Michels) and Phil likes Judy (Jenny Piersol).  Bob and Betty have an on and off and on relationship and so do Phil and Judy, but by the end both couples have a happy ending.

The foursome end up at the Columbia Inn in Vermont where the sisters were planning to perform.  But the lack of snow in Vermont has resulted in no guests and their gig is canceled.  Bob and Phil learn that the Inn is owned by their former commander General Waverly (James Michael Detmar).  Waverly lives there with Martha Watson (Thomasina Peters) who runs the inn and his granddaughter Susan (Natalie Tran) is visiting for the holidays.  Martha reveals to Bob and Phil that the inn is operating at a loss.  The inn’s sad financial status is aggravated by the lack of snow which keeps the skiing crowd away.  To financially help out their beloved general, Bob and Phil make plans to produce their new club act at the inn and invite members of their army division to vacation there over the holidays.

The minimal story is primarily a vehicle to set up the enjoyable Irving Berlin tunes. With a total of 18 songs, including the title song “White Christmas,” the show smoothly shifts from scene to scene to set up the songs.  The standout dancing number is “Blue Skies” which ends Act I.

Ann Michels as Betty Haynes and Thomasina Petrus as Martha Watson. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Bierbrauer and Sostek play an amicable team, but Bierbrauer really shines in his musical numbers with Michels.  Jenny Piersol portrays a deft comic touch with her efforts to keep the womanizing Phil in line.  But the best scene stealer in the show is Petrus who does a stupendous job of belting out “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”  She also gets the best line in the show when she tells the general: “We might as well be married.  We fight all the time and we never have sex.”

Ann Louizo’s eye catching and colorful scenic design greatly contributes to the fun of the musical numbers.  The scenery meshes well with Pamila Gray’s lighting which stands out in the “Blue Skies” song and dance number. The costumes by Carrie Robbins and Linda L. Salsbury create the nostalgic feel of the early 1950’s clothing style.  Rizzo’s orchestra does an energetic job of blending in Berlin’s music with the singers and dancers.

The story line of White Christmas is not great drama or comedy.  But the fast paced colorful musical numbers are engaging and its nostalgic feel makes the show a holiday classic for the whole family.

White Christmas plays through Dec. 31 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Bev Wolfe