REVIEW | December 08, 2023 | David Kiley

DEXTER, MI–As the holiday season descends upon the theater world, audiences donning their gay apparel headed to the Encore Musical Theatre are treated to a heartwarming spectacle in the stage musical adaptation of the timeless classic, “White Christmas.”

This production, presented through Dec. 21, is a nostalgic journey filled with romance, friendship, and a generous sprinkling of holiday magic, successfully capturing the essence of the beloved 1954 film while adding its own twists.

The musical, set against a backdrop of post-World War II America, follows the journey of two war buddies, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who find themselves in the quaint town of Pine Tree, Vermont. The narrative unfolds with charm and grace, as the duo teams up with the Haynes sisters, Betty and Judy, to try and bring joy to the residents of the inn owned by their former army commander.

Director Anna Dreslinski got off to the best start by casting some of the Encore’s best, recent singer-performers. Chemistry among the leads among the lead actors is quite good. The dynamic between Bob and Phil (Michael De Souza and Jeremiah Porter)  translates the camaraderie that has made the story endure through the decades. The Haynes sisters, Judy and Betty (Allison Bell and Kailyn Lilani), in turn, bring an infectious energy and vocal prowess that elevates the musical numbers. It certainly helps that both actresses have great pipes.

The choreography, also done by Ms. Dreslinkski, befits the context of the play nicely–not over-the-top, but just the right match for the lovely old Berlin tunes. The set design by Sarah Tanner is once again impressive and very versatile—moving between the Vermont barn where the show within the show takes place and the Regency Club in New York City with no clunky transitions  Costumes by Marilee Dechart transport the audience to a winter wonderland, with snow-covered landscapes and festive decor creating just the right holiday atmosphere. The attention to detail in capturing the 1950s aesthetic adds an extra layer of authenticity, immersing the audience in a bygone era.

One of the highlights of “White Christmas” is, of course, the musical score. The timeless melodies of Irving Berlin, including classics like “White Christmas” and “Blue Skies,” are woven into the fabric of the narrative, evoking a sense of nostalgia and warmth. The orchestra’s live performance, led by Music Director Frank Pitts, adds a rich and immersive dimension to the production, enhancing the emotional resonance of the story.

Key supporting performances and a strong ensemble underpin the glow of the play and celebration of Berlin tunes. Marlene Inman is especially good as Martha Watson, the housekeeper of the Vermont Inn. Inman injects a sassy energy to each scene. William Scott Davison is also just right in his gravitas-filled portrayal of General Henry Waverly. Young Emersen Davis as Susan Wavery is precocious and has a wonderful stage presence and will be a young talent to watch.  She shares the role with Caroline Hubbard over the course of the run.

While the plot may follow a familiar trajectory for those acquainted with the film, the stage adaptation introduces new elements and expands certain character dynamics, providing fresh surprises for both longtime fans and newcomers alike.

The incorporation of humor, sentiment, and a touch of Broadway flair ensures that the production stands on its own, separate from the iconic film.

This production is a joyous celebration that brings families and friends together in the true spirit of Christmas. Whether you’re a fan of the classic film or experiencing the story for the first time, “White Christmas” on stage is a lovely Yule experience that will leave audiences with hearts aglow and spirits lifted.