With its regular season in the rearview mirror, the Ogunquit Playhouse is shifting operations to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to close out 2017 with a flurry of holiday pizzazz. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” returns to The Music Hall’s Historic Theater for a magical run that has audiences dreaming of a white Christmas.

Portsmouth couldn’t have been a more picturesque setting for the Dec. 2 matinee performance. Shoppers perused the charming New England stores as the quaint city readied for the evening tree lighting festivities down the street from the 1878 Music Hall. And, as an added ode to “White Christmas,” there was no snow.

“White Christmas” is a romantic musical comedy that follows the adventures – and misadventures – of former WWII soldiers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis. When the now successful song-and-dance team discovers that its former general is in danger of losing his Vermont inn, the two join men forces with the Haynes sisters to stage a yuletide miracle.

Those familiar with the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen will notice several differences in the staged version, including a condensed storyline, added songs and new characters — most notably the addition of scene-stealer Ezekiel Foster (Kevin Farley). The Ogunquit Playhouse’s production, directed by Jayme McDaniel, embraces the theatrical changes while maintaining the nostalgic charm of the original movie.

The playhouse previously collaborated with The Music Hall to stage “White Christmas” for a sold-out run in 2015. This year’s rendition features the stunning original Broadway costuming and sets by Carrie Robbins and Anna Louizos, and combines returning favorites with an impressive group of new cast members. Kate Loprest and Vanessa Sonon return as Betty and Judy Haynes, joined by David Elder and Jacob ben Widmar, who are making their Ogunquit Playhouse debuts as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis.

Kate Loprest, David Elder, Jacob ben Widmar, Vanessa Sonon and the 2017 cast of the Ogunquit Playhouse production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Elder may not be the old-time crooner that Crosby was, but he nonetheless weaves a dream-like spell with his buttery smooth vocals on such movie staples as “Count Your Blessings” and the non-movie song “How Deep Is the Ocean,” added to the score as a companion piece to “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me.” The pairing is one of many show highlights, with Elder’s performance of “How Deep” providing an added emotional punch to Loprest’s powerful rendition of Betty’s disillusioned lament. Elder also dazzles on “Blue Skies,” backed by an outstanding ensemble cast.

Widmar and Sonon are delightfully paired as Phil and Judy, showcasing their multi-talents on such singing and dancing extravaganzas as “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “I Love a Piano.” They are grace in motion executing Kelli Barclay’s choreography, whether they are gliding across the stage or tap-dancing atop a piano.

In addition to the leads, the production stars Sally Struthers as the inn’s resident busybody, Martha Watson, and Steve Brady as the inn’s owner, General Henry Waverly. Struthers keeps the laughter coming with her trademark humor throughout, shining brightly on “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.”

Saturday’s matinee featured Katie Wylie as the general’s granddaughter, Susan. She was absolutely adorable mimicking Struthers on a reprise of the song-and-dance number.

Other standouts include Ryan Steer as Ralph Sheldrake, David Johnson as Mike Nulty and Kahlia Davis and Elise Kinnon as the ditzy showgirls, Rita and Rhoda.

The Ogunquit Playhouse’s “White Christmas” lights up the stage with holiday cheer. The Dec. 2 afternoon performance of the beloved classic was pure magic, from the Christmas bulbs dancing on the glittering snowflake curtain during the musical prologue, directed by Jeffrey Campos, to the cast-led Christmas sing-along in the finale.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

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Twitter: @ahboyle

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