On Main Street in Laurel, in a cozy stage space, Laurel Mill Playhouse is presenting TJ Lukacsina’s directorial debut in their joyous production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, The Musical. Also on display are the talents of Music Director William Georg, and Choreographers Alex J. Krebs and Rebekka Meyer. Based on the timeless film, this touching musical adaptation features 17 Irving Berlin songs and a book by David Ives and Paul Blake.
As the story goes, Bob Wallace (Mike Iacone) is the good guy in the successful song-and-dance team of “Wallace & Davis.” His best pal and former army buddy, Phil Davis (Alex Pecas), on the other hand is a hound-dog with women. Now it is ten years later after their time in the army, and they are taking their act on the road. The duo follows two beautiful sisters, Betty Haynes (Malarie Novotny) and Judy Haynes (Krissy McGregor) to a Vermont lodge, only to discover love is on their minds, General Henry Waverly’s (Jim Cross) lodge is in trouble, and it is 79 degrees the week before Christmas.
Iacone and Pecas lead a cast of talent as they open a show-within-the-show, with “Happy Holidays” as 16 dancers perform the Charleston in a 20’ x 17’ space. It’s a festive number that sets the upbeat mood of this holiday tale. Stand-out actor Charles Freeman, Jr. plays Ralph Sheldrake, who just happens to be Ed Sullivan’s assistant. Freeman easily changes the voice and liveliness of Mr. Sullivan himself.
Novotny and McGregor are well cast as the singing sisters. Judy is a little more assertive and optimist than her blonde cynical sister, they complement each other melodically as the perform “Sisters.” This is a fun ditty that has Novotny and McGregor wearing emerald green dresses accompanied by peacock-feathered fans. Compliments to Novotny for Betty’s solo, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me/How Deep is the Ocean?” Her vocal tone was soft, demonstrating her heartache over Bob.
Rita (Jessica Wieder) and Rhoda (Crista Kirkendall) are the sassy sisters that have designs for Phil and greet him as “Philly Dilly. Their high-pitched voices and flirty antics make for a bit of conflict and comic-relief with Judy Haynes (Krissy McGregor) who is honest in her feelings toward Phil. Both Wieder and Kirkendall’s characters are on the comical side especially as they demonstrate their Christmas show outfits – lights and all. Additionally, they are part of the ensemble dance cast,, and Wieder stands out with her exaggerated facial expressions and flirtatious moves.
Martha Watson (Jean Berard) could be Ana Gasteyer’s sister from Saturday Night Live. Berard is a delight to watch as she interacts with the lovable General Henry “Hank” Waverly’s (Jim Cross). Berard and Cross have a “love-hate-love” relationship, not in a romantic way, but from a business perspectiv, although they really have a hidden respect for each other. And if Martha didn’t care for the General the way that she does, she would not have been in cahoots with Wallace and Davis plus the General’s precocious grand daughter Susan Waverly (Carly Pometto).
Carly Pometto is adorable and fearless as Susie, the General’s precocious grand daughter.She steps out onto that stage and shines, and she can carry a tune as well. The moment of all moments though, is when she shares with Bob Wallace how much she loves her grandfather but is afraid to tell him. Together they sing the tender “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” Standing in the background, witnessing this tender exchange is Bob’s love interest Betty. They too have a special tender moment later in the production.
On the opposing side of all this sweetness, is the obnoxious Stage Manager Michelle (Spencer Nelson). I strongly suggest that her boisterousness be toned down a bit, mostly because of the size of the theater space. Nelson is a good in this role with her high-energy, knowing Wallace and Davis are trying to pull off a show in five days. Kudos to the multi-talented Nelson who sings and dances very well.
Mary Igoe, Taylor Washington, Miranda Snyder, Charlie Roberts, and Adam Abruzzo offer their dancing and singing talents in support of the principle leads, rounding out this very well casted show. The amazing score pleases throughout the entire show with such well-known standards including “Blue Skies,” “I Love a Piano,” and the seasonal favorite title song, “White Christmas.”
Scenic Designer James Raymond and Scenic Artist Lindsay Maiorano along with a set construction crew and six painters, create a barn that is built of yellow wood and has two framed prosceniums – one permanent and the other is adjusted accordingly, transitioning from army barracks to backstage to a train car to the Vermont Inn. Other locales include the barn in Vermont and the Regency Room in New York City. TJ Lukacsina also doubles as the lighting designer and technician.
It seems that almost every scene change also involves a costume change from rehearsal dance garb that was black pants, dark shirts and shiny vests, to sundresses with summery prints, to fancy cocktail dresses made of chiffon that were true of the mid-1950’s era and style. In the finale, the gals wore satin red evening gowns in varying styles with spaghetti straps, some trimmed with fur. As for the leads, Iacone and Pecas wore Santa jackets and hats, whereas the male chorus wore black pants, red shirts, and shiny white ties. Credit for the stunning costume design goes to Maureen Rogers, Jean Berard, and Kim Delk.
White Christmas is a sweet and sentimental musical that touches on kindness, friendship, showmanship, camaraderie, and ultimately love. And who doesn’t want that at Christmastime? Bring the whole family to Laurel Mill Playhouse to see this entertaining and joyous White Christmas.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.