I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
- "White Christmas," by Irving Berlin
Welcome to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
With music and lyrics by Irving Berlin and direction and choreography by Randy Skinner, this classic, set in the 1950s, follows song and dance duo Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton). After witnessing the sister act of Betty and Judy Haynes (Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan), they decide to follow the women to an inn in Vermont, which happens to be owned by General Waverly (Conrad John Shuck), Wallace and Davis’ old commanding officer from World War II.
Over the course of the play this chase for romance turns into an opportunity to help the general for whom they so deeply care, and like any good Christmas story musical, each of the characters learns a little something about themselves along the way through song.
Helmed by Randy Skinner, the artistic team created an experience with a lovely balance of the naturalistic and the fantastical.
White Christmas follows Wallace and Davis as they set out to save Waverly’s inn, and the scenic design successfully transports the audience to this picturesque venue. Scenic Designer and Adaptor Kenneth Foy and Original Scenic Designer Anna Louizos bring a cozy inn lobby to the audience complete with holiday decorations and a Christmas tree. Though simple, the design adds to numbers such as “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” During this scene, Wallace attempts to calm the nightmares of Waverly’s young granddaughter Susan (Makayla Joy Connolly), by inviting her to distract herself with the happy things in life rather than the negative. The scene itself is adorable, and Montgomery and Connolly share a sweet moment that is impossible not to love. The design team completes the image by placing the duo next to the Christmas tree lit in the dead of night, creating the perfect addition to a heartwarming Christmas story.
Not only do the designers master the naturalistic moments, but they also create some stunning images in the fantastical. Davis and Judy Haynes’ duet, “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” is a number that begins fun and flirtatious in jazz club. Over the course of the scene, the club lifts into the air, revealing an open space covered in misty clouds, with a backdrop of night stars. Lighting Designer Ken Billington fills the space with shades of purple and pink, pushing the breathtaking image of a dream over the top. It is in this scene that Davis and Haynes fall in love, and the designers do not disappoint in bringing that magical emotion to life.
Stunning Musical Numbers
It is impossible to discuss White Christmas without noting the beautiful score of Irving Berlin’s classic music. From “Happy Holiday” and “I Love a Piano” to “Blue Skies” and “White Christmas,” the musical showcases it all with a talented ensemble, impeccable choreography, and lovely design.
“Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” features Betty Haynes as she laments how allowing herself to love a man only ended in heartbreak. Kerry Conte’s vibrato rings throughout the theater, and the emotion she exudes through her solo is heartbreaking. Betty performs her solo act at the Regency Room, and the scenic design adds to the number with the backdrop of the New York City skyline in the background. Costume Designer Carrie Robbins places Betty in a black formal gown, and the overall effect is a gorgeous.
In addition to the emotional, Irving Berlin’s more jaunty, comedic numbers are just as fun to watch unfold. “Happy Holidays/Let Yourself Go” acts as the second musical number of the show, and the first “Broadway” performance the audience witnesses of the power duo, Bob and Phil. Montgomery and Davis share an excellent stage chemistry as best friends, and their stage presence makes their numbers absolutely enjoyable. The ensemble surrounding them is spot-on in Skinner’s choreography, and based on the overwhelming applause from the audience that followed, it feels safe to say that the number was a hit.
White Christmas would fail without a strong ensemble, and Skinner’s cast certainly does not disappoint. The ensemble numbers ranging from “Let Yourself Go” to “White Christmas” are full of jazzy choreography and spot-on stage presence that pushes these jaunty scenes over the top.
So many of the personalities in White Chrismtas are fast-paced and larger than life, and as such, Cliff Bemis’ Ezekiel Foster makes for a fun contrast. He provides a comic relief through his slow pace, and especially when combined with the anxious and driven Stage Manager Mike Nulty (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), the audience consistently erupted with laughter.
Karen Ziemba as Martha Watson is hilarious. Her comedic timing sells the character’s sarcastic and dry humor, and her powerful voice makes her solo “Let Me Sing I’m Happy” a spectacular event to watch unfold. Kerry Conte and Kelly Sheehan bring life to the Haynes Sisters, and create an honest relationship between two sisters who clearly love each other more than anything.
Sean Montgomery’s Bob Wallace is brilliant, and his lovely voice makes “Blue Skies” in particular a brilliant closer to Act One. His stage presence for the solo steals the stage, and the pure joy he emanates makes it impossible not to sway along in rhythm.
Stunning design and joyous musical numbers make White Christmas a must-see event for this time of year.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Through December 3, 2017
Tuesdays at 7:30pm
Wednesdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Thursdays at 8:00pm
Fridays at 2:00 pm and 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
Run Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, with intermission.
Cadillac Palace Theatre
151 W. Randolph St
Chicago, IL 60601
About the Author:
Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters.