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Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS FLURRIES INTO TOBY'S IN COLUMBIA

at Toby's Dinner Theater through January 9th, 2022

Review: IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS FLURRIES INTO TOBY'S IN COLUMBIA

Irving Berlin'S WHITE CHRISTMAS Is Comforting And Familiar At Toby's In Columbia

Holidays invite special outings, even in unusual times. Enter Irving Berlin'S WHITE CHRISTMAS, the musical. Live theatre! Romance! Dancing! Enduring favorite songs! Yes, Toby's Dinner and Show goes on with pandemic-specific provisions. Tables are distanced, the ice cream bar melted away, and you must show ID and Covid 19 vax card or proof of Covid-negative status before entering the theater. Actor /servers are masked, as are fellow audience members when venturing from their tables to bathrooms or dinner buffet.

Irving Berlin'S WHITE CHRISTMAS, Book by David Ives & Paul Blake, with Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin, flurries into Toby's in Columbia to delight and dazzle your family this winter. Directed by Mark Minnick, Music Director Ross Scott Rawlings, with vocal and dance arrangements by Bruce Pomahac, it's a love letter to 1940s Hollywood.

Irving Berlin originally conceived "White Christmas" as a dance number for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, but it debuted in the 1942 film Holiday Inn without either of them. Bing Crosby sang it in that movie, then again for 1954's White Christmas, filmed at the same farmhouse.

The Academy Award-winning "White Christmas" reigns as the all-time top selling Christmas song, so re-imagining its namesake movie for live theatre performance is just good box office. The stage musical, bolstered by Berlin tunes NOT originally in the film, has played seasonally since its first production in 2000. It's packed with musical gems, many accompanied by spectacular dance numbers.

WHITE CHRISTMAS also contains nearly every trope of 1940s war films: military loyalty, independent women, plucky show biz characters, a jeopardized farmhouse, an endearing child, a torch song, ditzy girls and a cozy late night sequence. The comfortable familiarity of these elements might be the antidote for current existential instability. The show is heartwarming, visually pleasing, featuring excellent work by a terrific cast.

Beloved Robert Biedermann opens the evening with his special humorous pre-show announcements and recognitions. Ross Scott Rawlings' small orchestra packs a punch disproportionate to its size: two keyboards, drums, plus Steve Haaser on woodwinds with Don Patterson and Tony Neenan on brass give a very BIG band sound. The music is snappy, well balanced and irreproachable.

As Ralph Sheldrake, perpetual producer and wheeler-dealer, Justin Calhoun is affably smarmy and upbeat. The aforementioned Robert Biedermann's innate avuncularity makes his portrayal of General Henry Waverly as prideful and curmudgeonly rather a hard sell, especially in Act II. Jeffrey Shankle plays entertainer Bob Wallace with effective "regular guy" energy, and David James, as Phil Davis, Bob's playboy performance partner, is as nimble with comic delivery as with dance moves. Shankle and James have excellent chemistry and timing, and their post-performance pre-nightclub clothes-changing sequence is admirably smooth.

Janine Sunday playing Betty Haynes nails lofty morality, delivers sumptuous vocals and is especially mellifluous in "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me." As scheming sister Judy Haynes, Alicia Osborn is pert, energetic, and confidently holds up her portion of many dance numbers in a role which originally showcased veteran dance phenom Vera-Ellen.

Ms. Jane Boyle brings busybody warmth to the role of Martha Watson and to her solo "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy," then deftly steers "Falling Out Of Love Can Be Fun." Her interactions with Nina Brothers, one of 3 young actors sharing the role of little Susan Waverly, General Waverly's granddaughter, have authenticity and plotline pertinence. Nina Brothers is appropriately adorable, fully professional, and belts an impressive reprise of "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy."

Despite monosyllabic lines, Shawn Kettering as barn manager Ezekiel Foster wins laughs and hearts with deadpan delivery, while DeCarlo Raspberry, in dialogue limited to a few phrases, is hilariously exasperated as stage manager Mike Nulty.

The song and dance ensemble, shiny and colorful as a dish of Christmas candy, creates a dazzling array of movement and expression, as choreographed by Bruce Pomahac and Christen Svingos, with an assist from posthumous celebrity Bob Fosse, the movie's uncredited choreographer. Selected iconic choreography is reproduced or referenced in this production, notably in "Sisters" and "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me." I'm particularly delighted, however, with the flashy non-Fosse tap choreography and costuming of "I Love A Piano," featuring David James, Alicia Osborn, and a prop I'm calling a grandbaby grand.

Take Norman Rockwell, Currier & Ives, Hallmark and toss in some "hey, kids, let's put on a show" and you'll have the overarching aesthetic of WHITE CHRISTMAS. In the tradition of '40s musicals, this show tugs heartstrings and brightens spirits. The timeless music of Irving Berlin combined with the dedication and talent of Toby's Dinner And Show ensemble, both performance and production, yields a family-friendly show filled with swirling velveteen and shimmering satin, awash in sentiments of devotion, support and service, sure to give you cocoa-and-fireplace feelings no matter what weather presents itself this holiday season.

WHITE CHRISTMAS plays at Toby's through January 9th, 2022. The following production, Monty Python's SPAMALOT runs January 14th through March 20th, 2022. For the rest of the 2022 schedule, visit Upcoming Shows.

Toby's Dinner & Show is in Columbia, Maryland, easily accessed from Route 29, Route 175 or Route 32. Outdoor parking is on one level all around the building.

Photo: Alicia Osborn, David James and Dance Ensemble in WHITE CHRISTMAS

Photo Credit: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia

5900 Symphony Woods Road

Columbia, MD 21044

For additional information including pricing, buffet menu and directions, visit www.tobysdinnertheatre.com.

For tickets, phone the box office at 410-730-8311, 301-596-6161 or 1-800-88-TOBYS 10 am - 9 pm. Doors open at 6pm Tuesday through Saturday evenings, with dinner from 6:00-7:20 for an 8 pm showtime. Wednesday and Sunday Matinees, the buffet is 10:00-11:50 am for a 12:30 pm show. Sunday evening supper is at 5:30 pm, with a 7 pm showtime. The show runs about one and a half hours, including a 15 minute intermission.

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From This Author - Cybele Pomeroy


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