The charming holiday show delivers everything good about classic Hollywood musicals without the schmaltz.
As retailers trot out their fake snow displays before Halloween, inboxes are buried in an avalanche of holiday promotions and Black Friday shoppers prepare to brawl over the latest Star Wars figurine, it’s easy to turn cynical this time of year. But then there are things like Drury Lane’s White Christmas—an Old Hollywood-style musical polished to a twinkle and warm enough to melt even the Scroogiest among us.
What’s initially surprising about this Christmas is that throughout most of the show it doesn’t even feel like a “Christmas show,” until, you know, it does. (Crushed red velvet gowns with white fur trim will do that.) Instead, it feels electrified with the sleek secular charm of the best movie musicals of the 1940s and ’50s. That's fitting, considering the show is based on 1954’s classic Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney-led film about two performing duos who spend their holiday prepping a revue meant to save the Vermont inn they’re visiting from financial ruin.
Crosby’s movie character, Bob Wallace, is played here by Sean Allan Krill, a striking, square-jawed leading man seemingly ripped from an earlier generation. In fact, all four principals (Krill, Matt Raftery as Wallace’s old army buddy turned singing partner Phil Davis, Gina Milo as Betty Haynes and Erica Stephan as her sister Judy), with their effortless charisma and presence, glow with the same nostalgia-dappled light. Supporting players, too, like Broadway vet Alene Robertson and Maya Lou Hlava (who alternates performances with Avery Moss as the innkeeper’s precocious granddaughter) command the stage.
It would be easy to chalk up the production’s success to that vague comfort-food-like wistfulness entirely. But it’s the impeccably smooth timing, physical comedy and razor-sharp dance numbers it borrows from Crosby and his peers that really pay off. Director William Osetek and choreographer Matthew Crowle take their time to get it right and yet the production never drags.
Indulgent, complex tap numbers stretch so long, it’s shocking the company remains upright, let alone singing without even a hint of being winded. Secondary plotlines and character relationships develop slowly and build into a stage show with far more depth than its source material. Irving Berlin’s iconic songbook comes to life. Which is all to say, this cast and artistic team make something incredibly difficult look incredibly easy, and that’s what makes it all so fun.
Drury Lane Oakbrook Terrace. Book by David Ives and Paul Blake. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Directed by William Osetek. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 30mins; one intermission.