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Playhouse's 'White Christmas' delivers holiday sentiment

While others hum and dream, the folks at Laurel Mill Playhouse are singing and dancing their way to a white Christmas in "IrvingBerlin's White Christmas, the Musical."

Bing Crosby first crooned the show's title song on NBC radio's "The Kraft Music Hall" on Christmas Day, 1941. A holiday favorite that's continually topped Billboard charts since,the Crosby record is likely the most widely sold single of all time.

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The film "White Christmas," starring Crosby and Danny Kay, premiered in 1954; and the musical "Irving Berlin's White Christmas," with book by David Ives and Paul Blake, began touring North America in 2009. Just last month it debuted, and continues to run, at the Dominion Theater in the West End of London.

Directed here by Laurel resident T.J. Lukacsina, with musical direction by William Georg and produced by Maureen C. Rogers, of Laurel, the musical theater version of the romantic comedy adapts nicely to LMP'sstage.

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Reminiscent of the interior of an oversized music box, the warm wood tones of Laurel resident James Raymond's clever set create a pretty and functional setting for lively dance numbers beautifully choreographed byAlex J. Krebs and Rebekka Meyer.

Modular set pieces flow sweetly into fresh scenes like puzzle pieces. Lukacsina's intricate lighting design, along with Lindsay Maiorano'sscenic art, complement details such as the lovely hand-painted moon backdrop, created by Raymond, and the paper snowflakes that hang in the audience, crafted by students from Glenelg High School's academic life skills classes.

A cast of 17 alluring performers appears in showy costumes assembled by Rogers, Jean Berard and Kim Delk. From the moment the stage lights catch a shimmering flash of holiday magic set in a dismal war zone in "Happy Holiday – 1944," the pit orchestra and cast dive into their musical numbers with glee.

Portraying World War II vets and show biz personalities Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, Mike Iacone and Alex Peças lead the talented ensemble.

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The plot centers on their characters' determination to rescue retired Gen. Henry Waverly (played by Jim Cross) from financial ruin, while falling in love with a pair of sisters who've tricked them into auditioning their act.

Betty and Judy Haynes, portrayed by Malarie Novotny and Laurel resident Krissy McGregor, have booked their "Sisters" act at a ski lodge in Vermont for Christmas. Smitten with Judy at the recent audition and playing matchmaker to Bob and Betty, Davis tricks Wallace into following the young women to Vermont, where the mendiscover the inn is owned by their former commanding officer.

Enter standouts Jean Berard (as the general's concierge, Martha Watson) and Laurel resident Rachel Kilgallon (as his granddaughter, Susan Waverly). Both actresses deliver stellar performances; "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" is a delight to watch in both renditions.

Jessica Weider and Crista Kirkendall also find their moments to sparkle as showgirls Rita and Rhoda, who wear sexy costumes and flirt shamelessly with Davis.

As General Waverly,Cross (who served five terms on the Laurel City Council) makes his acting debutas the patriarchal hero adored by all.

Lukacsina rounds out his cast with Laurel resident Taylor Washington and Charles Freeman, Spencer Nelson, Mary Igoe, Miranda Snyder, Charlie Roberts and Adam Abruzzo. All deliver notable performances.

Iacone easily captures the complexity of Bob Wallace — a savvy entertainer who is shy with women. One of several dazzling moments for Iacone and Novotny as Betty is their rendition of "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me/How Deep is the Ocean?" in Act 2.

As the debonair Davis,Peças is simply smooth as silk in his vocals, physicality and characterization. He and McGregor as Judy also make believable lovers and deliver stunning vocals,particularly in "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing" and "I Love a Piano."

David Booth Jr., Miranda Daughton, Kathy Hersey, Teddy Hersey, Emily Targonski, Sylvan Scott and William Georg perform in the pit orchestra at a near perfect volume.

Delightful for all ages, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas" at Laurel Mill Playhouse looks good,sounds good and feels good — a dreamy show that pays much tribute to old-fashioned holiday sentiment.

"Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the Musical" continues through Dec. 21, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. General admission is $22. Students 18 and under, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $17. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2.

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