Near the end of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” as the cast prepares to launch into the show’s title tune, one character encourages the audience to sing along, “if you know the words.”
“If”? It hardly seems likely that there are people living in this country of sentient age who are completely unfamiliar with the lyrics of “White Christmas,” which still holds the record as the best-selling single of all time.
And a good portion of the audience at Tuesday’s opening-night performance of the touring production of this musical needed no such invitation or encouragement to lend their voices — such as they were — to everything from “White Christmas” and “Sisters” to “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.”
That’s because, for whatever reason, people have developed a unique connection with this song and the story that surrounds it, whether it be the 1954 film version featuring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney, or this stage version, which has been making the rounds of theaters during the holiday season since 2004.
The production playing through Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Tulsa PAC, will more than satisfy “White Christmas” aficionados, as it streamlines the film’s story to make room for more Irving Berlin songs and production numbers that range from the dazzling to the “that’ll do.”
Said story is this: Bob Wallace (Sean Montgomery) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) are a song-and-dance duo who have enjoyed a modicum of success in the years since they served in World War II under the command of Gen. Waverly (Conrad John Schuck).
They are planning to put together a new revue when they meet up with a pair of performing sisters, the slightly flighty Judy (Kelly Sheehan) and more down-to-earth Betty (Kerry Conte). Phil is enthusiastic about including the sisters in the show — and even more enthusiastic about pursuing some extracurricular activities with the equally inclined Judy.
Bob and Betty, on the other hand, have the sort of prickly relationship from the start that can only end up with each of them realizing that the love of their lives has been right in front of them all along.
And that, perhaps, is the real reason why people continue to be so drawn to “White Christmas.” It’s one of those wonderfully old-fashioned stories, one that you know from the start is working toward a completely happy ending, where lovers end up securely in each other’s arms, and all the conflicts and obstacles on the path to that happy ending can be swept away by a great melody and a flashy bit of dancing.
As for the dancing, choreographed by director Randy Skinner, the best of it comes in the tap numbers, such as the high-energy precision of the opening number, “Let Yourself Go,” and the lavish “I Love a Piano.” In fact, the tap dancing was so good one wishes there was more of it, as the more conventional dance numbers, such as “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” came across as serviceable and not much more.
Of the four lead performers, Conte has perhaps the best voice, with a lovely burnished tone that gave every note she sang an intriguing richness, best exemplified by her performances in “Love and the Weather” and “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.”
Benton gives Phil Davis an saucy impishness, and Montgomery emphasizes his character’s straight-arrowness with a foursquare, somewhat nasal vocal tone.
As the General and his right-hand woman Martha, Broadway and film veterans John Schuck and Karen Ziemba bring an easy panache to these roles, effortlessly making these potentially two-dimensional characters into real people (Schuck’s “old soldier” monologue is particularly effective).
Emma Grace Berardelli, who had the role of Susan at Tuesday’s performance, was pint-size powerhouse, with a mini-megaphone of a voice that endeared her with the audience.
Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” continues with performances through Sunday, Nov. 25, at the Tulsa PAC, 101 E. Third St. For tickets: 918-596-7111, tulsapac.com.