Irving Berlin’sWhite Christmas has been a favorite for 60 years and lives on TV and shopping malls, and the stage. San Diego Musical Theatre’s production on view at the Birch North Park is old-style. Berlin’s delightful songs put us in the holiday mood and help the show plod along through 18 scenes. Director Todd Nielsen preserves the corny romantic plot, by David Ives and Paul Blake. Still, the show glitters all the same because of the music, excellent dance sequences choreographed by Lisa Hopkins, and a few comic surprises.
The orchestra directed by Don Le Master has a big band sound and drives Berlin’s most familiar tunes, such as “Snow” – I wanna wash my hair in snow – and that title song made famous by Bing Crosby that wraps up the show with red velvet and vintage ski sweaters. And of course a sing-along.
We follow the antics of Bob and Phil, two Army veterans who make it big as nightclub entertainers, and sister act Betty and Judy, nice gals who want a career and a good man. The four flirt and scheme and end up in Vermont to put on a really big show at the inn of the guys’ cranky old general. References to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and nightclubs cater to those who love the 1950s.
As Betty and Bob, Allison Spratt Pearce and Todd Dubail impress with their height and passionate kisses, yet struggle to get along and stay on pitch in “Love and the Weather,” and “Love You didn’t do Right by Me.”
Judy and Phil come to life thanks to the superb pairing of Tro Shaw and Jeffrey Scott Parsons. Compact and always in character, the two have chemistry and bring energy to the tired storyline with quick dancing and dialogue. They lead the attractive ensemble in complex tap dancing that looks and sounds sweet, especially “I love the Piano.”
April Jo Henry and Siri Hafso bring the house down as the flirtatious and naughty Rita and Rhoda who chase after Phil. They strut to sell detergent and give the show a giggle right on time. Claire Scheper as little Susan has even more polish and singing chops than last year. She is a 10 year old to watch. Kara J. Franko also returns as Martha the hotel busybody that sings like Kate Smith and tears up the stage in a hat and cane dance.
If you go, consider wearing a holiday sweater and a toque. The Birch Theatre has air conditioning vents in the floor that blow cold air. Be festive and pretend you’ve arrived in Vermont along with the cast.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs through Dec. 21. www.sdmt.org. The troupe moves to the Spreckels Theatre in 2015, opening with West Side Story.