Tuneful ‘White Christmas’ warms hearts for the holidays at Rooftop Productions

With a classic score by Irving Berlin and breezy production values, this perenial favorite is lovingly performed by a terrific cast.

What a tune stack! “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “Sing and I’m Happy,” “I Love a Piano,” “Snow,” “Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Happy Holiday,” and — you guessed it! — the title song. These and other Irving Berlin chestnuts are included and are lovingly performed by the talented cast of Rooftop Productions’ White Christmas.

The Wind River Theater on the third floor of the ARTfactory in Manassas is not a large venue so tickets are likely to sell out quickly for this now-perennial favorite. And this cast certainly deserves a big success.

Phil (Alan Pierce) and Betty (Jesse Shull) rehearsing for the ‘million-dollar proposition’ in ‘White Christmas.’ Photo by Kimberly Kemp.

Based on the film musical from 1954, the stage musical premiered regionally in 2000 and has made appearances on stages large and small ever since.

Like the film, White Christmas starts at the end of World War II with two GIs, Captain Bob Wallace and private Phil Davis entertaining the troops overseas, including their stern yet endearing commander, General Waverly. The general is being shipped stateside to recuperate and the boys are about to start their civilian career as song and dance men. Years later, Bob and Phil are up-and-coming performers and plan a gig in Florida, arranged by their former Army buddy and manager Sheldrake. Before they head south, Phil is smitten by half of a duo act, the Haynes Sisters. Falling for Judy, Phil schemes to follow the ladies not to Florida but to the winter wonderland of Vermont, much to Phil’s chagrin. Phil, by the way, does not see eye-to-eye with Betty Haynes, the other sibling — at least not at first.

As all good musical comedies do, complications follow in the person of the “old man,” General Waverly, now owner of a quaint inn in Vermont facing an unseasonal heat wave and no guests due to a lack of winter weather. If this sounds like a job for a sister act and two affable song-and-dance men, you are on to something! The foursome bring up more entertainers and the boys hatch a plan to reunite their Army unit to bring business back to the inn. Throw in a precocious granddaughter and brassy hotel clerk as foils to the general and you have all the ingredients for musical comedy heaven.

Using the compact stage with creative staging and Rubik’s cube precision, director/set designer Vincent Worthington and choreographer Shania Stewart Duane pulled out all the stops to take the audience from New York to Vermont and back again with quick scene changes. Duane’s choreography was stylish and handled skillfully by the cast and ensemble.

Bob Wallace — remember Bing Crosby from the movie? — was played here by Christopher Anderson who has a voice well-suited to the Irving Berlin songs he is assigned. “Blue Skies” and “How Deep Is the Ocean” were particular highlights. As the older partner, Anderson provided a grounded performance. As his younger and more mercurial partner, Phil, Alan Pierce clowned and danced up a storm. “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” was a standout for Pierce. Together, Anderson and Pierce brought the charm for the Haynes sisters and the entire audience.

As Betty Haynes, the older sister, Rebekah Raze handled her scenes and songs with grace and beauty. Her rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me” was especially sumptuous. Portraying the younger Haynes sister, Judy, Jessi Shull was in her element, taking on the role Vera-Ellen had in the film, which showcased not only her winning vocals but her phenomenal dancing skills. Shull dazzled in the knockout tap number with Pierce, “I Love a Piano.”

As individuals, all four leads were super strong, but together, their chemistry was palpable.

TOP: Martha (Talya Conroy, center) explains the inn situation to Bob (Chris Anderson) and Phil (Alan Pierce); ABOVE: Devoted sisters Betty (Jesse Shull) and Judy (Rebekah Raze) in ‘White Christmas.’ Photos by Kimberly Kemp.

The main four performers were ably supported by Talya Conroy as the sassy belter hiding as a hotel concierge, Martha. Conroy knocked “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy” out of the ballpark. As Waverly’s granddaughter, Susan, Ruby McCollum was both wise and winning and was also a terrific singer and dancer. In mostly non-singing roles, Scott Pierce as Waverly, Andrew Morin as Sheldrake, and Michael Gordon as Ezekiel (think a Jethro Bodine of the Northeast) each contributed to the plot and comedic situations.

Along with Pierce and Shull, as Phil and Judy, the dancing ensemble made Duane’s choreography look easy. Remarkably, there were tweens and teenagers mingled in with seasoned performers and the entire ensemble worked in sync to sell the dance steps and musical numbers.

Last but not least, the assured musical direction by Ahryel Tinker and Charlynn Mills made sure the lyrics and tunes were performed to their best advantage throughout the show.

With a score of 15 Irving Berlin classic tunes, a winning cast, and breezy production values, Rooftop’s White Christmas is the perfect way to usher in happy holidays.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas plays through December 10, 2023, in the Wind River Theater (3rd floor), The ARTFactory, 9419 Battle Street, Manassas, VA. Tickets ($20–$30) are available online or through the box office at 703-330-2787, Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.

COVID Safety: Face coverings are recommended but not required.


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