Irving Berlin's White Christmas National Tour Company. Jeremy Daniel Photography, 2019
The 1954 film White Christmas has become a Christmas classic in its own right, so it’s no wonder that the musical adaptation, directed and choreographed by Randy Skinner and onstage now at Durham Performing Arts Center, would be just as charming and enjoyable.
The simple story, still set in 1954, focuses around a male dance duo composed of Bob Wallace (David Elder) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton), both of whom are Army vets who served under General Henry Waverly (Conrad John Schuck). Bob and Phil are surprised when they visit a quaint Vermont inn and discover their former General is the struggling owner. The fun picks up when two musical and beautiful sisters, Betty (Kerry Conte) and Judy (Kelly Sheehan) also arrive at the inn. Romance and a jumbled, chaotic, but ultimately hilarious plan to help save the general and the inn ensue, keeping viewers delightfully entertained and laughing all the way to the end.
Everything about the musical is big and bold, from the largescale musical numbers to the incredible dance routines, including a particularly memorable second-act tap dance number. Tipping and twirling through one unforgettable song after another, the cast impresses at every turn. On the softer side, though, the set, designed by Anna Louizos, often lends itself to a charming, appropriately old-fashioned feeling with vintage-style painted backdrops. Other settings are exquisitely designed and beautiful down to the last detail, including an impressively intricate first-act train car set and the inn itself, particularly when it’s all decked out for Christmas.
In fact, White Christmas is big on the visual appeal in all aspects. Carrie Robbins’ costumes are as sweet as a candy cane and really serve to make viewers feel as if they’ve stepped back into the 50s. And, while some of the humor might be equally old-fashioned, everything comes together to make for an ultimately charming evening.
Elder and Benton play off of each other nicely, ramping up the comedy whenever possible, while the leading ladies are just as enjoyably mischievous. Conte is particularly effective at making her Betty the fiery sparkplug she was written to be. Schuck is both sweet and stern in his role as General Schuck, while Lorna Luft often steals the stage with her witty, wisecracking, and hilarious portrayal of Martha Watson, the inn’s concierge.
Much like the film itself, this musical adaptation is fluffy but fun, exactly what one wants in a feel-good Christmas show. Suitable for viewers of all ages and the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit, it’s a great way to experience a little Christmas magic (and a lot of snow!) this holiday season.
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