Irving Berlin Songs Light Up WHITE CHRISTMAS

Published: Friday, November 15, 2013 7:00 am By: James Cotter Source: Times Herald-Record

ELMSFORD – “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep”: Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” has come to the Westchester Broadway Theatre for a seasonal song and dance celebration.  Based on the 1954 classic film, the musical waited 50 years to reach the stage.  With book by David Ives and Paul Blake, the music and lyrics by Berlin from ”Blue Skies” to “White Christmas” never fail to set the listener singing along to tune after unforgettable tune.

    With the skillful direction and choreography of Randy Skinner, the cast of 25 performs flawlessly with singing, dancing, tapping and acting on a high professional level.  Musical direction by Andrew Smithson keeps the pace and timing of the score tunefully rolling with the ten-piece orchestra.  The 22 numbers tell the story while the music never misses a beat. 

    Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) are Army buddies who after World War II team up for a successful theater and nightclub career.  Phil worries that Bob is too serious and has no romance in his life.  When they meet up with two singing sisters who have a winning act, Betty (Kelly Sheehan) and Judy Haynes (Lindsie VanWinkle), Phil wants Bob and Betty to link up while he woos Judy.  The sisters are on their way to a lodge in Pine Tree, Vermont, for a Christmas show.  By coincidence, the lodge is run by the men’s former commander, General Henry Waverly (Jamie Ross), who for want of snow is financially strapped.  The foursome plan to put on a show at the lodge with an Ed Sullivan television hookup and with surprise ex-Army guests to appear in a star-studded extravaganza.

    As Bob, Montgomery shines with his fine voice, physical energy, bright smile and confidence, culminating in his beautifully staged solo “Blue Skies.”  Reluctant at first to fall in love, his pursuit of Betty is genuine, sharing with her duets “Love and the Weather,” “Count Your Blessings” and the lovely “How Deep Is the Ocean.”  VanWinkle makes Betty an equally believable character with her dancing feet literally on the ground and her strong soprano lamenting, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.”

    As Phil, Benton is indefatigably on the move, tapping up a storm with Bob in “Let Yourself Go” or with Judy in the show-stopping “I Love a Piano.”  His high spirits and good humor are contagious and make his presence key to the show.  As his partner Judy, Sheehan is a charmer with her bubbly personality and blonde good looks.  She and Betty turn their act “Sisters” into an instant hit, and later Bob and Phil do a comic parody of the number.  

    As General Walton, Ross has the right dignity in the Army and real befuddlement as the inn’s inefficient owner.  Martha is his receptionist and the true manager.  As played by Karen Murphy, she is a big-voiced ball of fire announcing “Let Me Sing And I’m Happy.”  In other roles, Benjamin Dean plays an announcer and the frantic director of the show, Mike.  Ezekiel is embodied by Seth Lerner as a larger-than-life farmer. The TV producer and ex-Army buddy  Sheldrake is sharply portrayed by Kasey Marino.  Nicole E. Kolitsas is Walton’s tiny granddaughter Susan who enlivens a number of scenes.  She alternates in the part with Julia White.

    Set design by Steve Loftus is colorful with stunning backdrops, and costumes by Derek Lockwood range from Norman Rockwell everyday wear to Broadway brilliant.  Andrew Gmoser lights up the stage like a Christmas tree.