Since it left the pen of Irving Berlin in 1940, “White Christmas” has become the best-selling song of all time and is the only one to have produced a movie and a Broadway musical, both named for that tune. The power of the Berlin holiday tune is evidenced by the current Elkhart Civic Theatre production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” which opened Friday evening and was sold out even before it began. The audience is invited to sing along at the beginning and the finale and I would bet there were few if any who could not respond to that request.
It’s a show to put you in the holiday spirit and definitely is one the entire family can enjoy. The 1954 technicolor movie starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen and the decidedly thin plot was obviously taken, with some modification, from the 1942 Crosby/Astaire classic, “Holiday Inn.” The theatrical version puts the ownership of the Vermont inn in the hands of a retired Army general (Charles Arnold). When former soldiers now successful entertainers Bob Wallace (Vincent Kelly) and Phil Davis (Tom Myers) arrive at the inn in pursuit of a sister song and dance team Betty (Stephanie Yoder) and Judy (Alexandra Pote) Haynes, they discover their former commander is facing bankruptcy. No surprise, they use their show biz contacts to put on a big show which, after romantic entanglements are sorted out, brings solvency to the general and true love to Bob and Betty and Phil and Judy — and all to the strains of some of Berlin’s loveliest music. Among this productions highlights are “Snow,” sung by the entire company on a train to Vermont; “Sisters,” both female and male versions; “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” a good idea at any season; “I Love a Piano,” a show-stopper that gets the second act off to a flying start; and, of course, the title tune. In addition there are lesser known melodies that are well worth hearing: “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun,” a lament by the sisters and the general’s housekeeper Martha (Julie Herrli Castello), and “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” sung by Castello and, later, by the general’s granddaughter Susan (Jacqueline Kelley Cogdell). Special applause for Tom Doughty who does a very funny Percy Kilbride. The costume design by Dawn Blessing fills the stage with holiday cheer, especially in the red and white finale and the black and white “Piano” number. The quartet of choreographers and the dancers who execute their steps make each of the numbers — ensemble or individual — absolute fun to watch. Director Michael Cripe keeps the pace crisp. The soloists are up to the vocal challenges, delivering music and lyrics clearly and smoothly. The orchestra was much too loud opening night, covering singers and at time less than supportive of the dancers.
“WHITE CHRISTMAS” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Nov. 19-20 and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Opera House on S.R. 120 in Bristol. For information on possible cancellations, call 848-4116 or check at the box office before curtain time.