A rousing Music Theater Works production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas makes the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie an ideal gathering spot for multigenerational family fun. It is a classic love story guaranteed to bring a smile – even if you have a Scrooge in your brood.
Directed by Sasha Gerritson based on a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake, the musical tells the story of two World War II veterans with a successful song-and-dance act who meet and follow a pair of sisters to an inn in Vermont, which is also, by the way, on the verge of financial failure and turns out to be owned by their former and very much admired commander.
Can the two couples work out their interpersonal complications and produce a show that will save the inn? There are misunderstandings, assumptions and spontaneous decisions galore, but since this is all make-believe, everything works out in the end.
The leads of the show flaunt their impressive voices and acting chops, much to the audience’s benefit. They carry the show admirably. Tommy Thurston (Bob Wallace) and Jimmy Hogan (Phil Davis) play the former soldiers. Kelly Britt (Betty Haynes) and Anna Marie Abbate (Judy Haynes) play the sisters. They are individually and collectively terrific as actors, dancers, comics and in particular, singers.
The fifth lead, Alicia Berneche (Martha Watson, the inn’s concierge), steals the show. Her character has a Brooklyn accent that resonates like chalk on a chalkboard, a heart of gold buried underneath a razor-sharp ability to offer a retort that will frighten even the most innocent questioners, and a voice that seems to bring Ethel Merman back from the dead. Theatergoers will sit up straight in their seats when Berneche starts to sing Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.
Another wonderful song, Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun, is performed by Berneche, Britt, Abbate and Lea Biwer (Susan Waverly), the teenage granddaughter of General Waverly (Brian Rooney). It captures the sass, sisterhood and friendship women need to survive travails in love and the workplace. Although this scene takes place in December 1954, some things haven’t changed much. Kudos to Biwer, a freshman in high school, for a sterling performance.
The costumes are lovely and festive, in particular for the finale. The dancing is energetic and enthusiastic, especially the tap dancing in I Love a Piano, sung and danced by Hogan and Abbate with the ensemble. Thurston’s scene leading up to and including “Blue Skies” (along with the ensemble) is spectacular and showcases his theatrical talents.
The emotional tension peaks in the second act when Britt sings her torch song, Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me and Thurston responds with How Deep Is the Ocean? Britt kills it in her sophisticated and sexy costume in this scene. The four male dancers behind her were superfluous. She commands the stage visually and with her voice, and doesn’t deserve any distractions.
The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts is a convenient venue for seeing this or any production and there is ample free parking. Tickets for the show, which runs through Jan. 1, are $39 to $106; half-price tickets are available for those 25 and younger. Go to MusicTheaterWorks.com or contact the box office at 847-673-6300. The show runs 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.