Review: ‘Best things happen’ in Woodstock’s ‘White Christmas’

Theatre 121 brings sparkling holiday treat to stage

Theatre 121 presents "White Christmas" at the Woodstock Opera House.

Theatre 121′s production of “White Christmas” is just the thing you need to start your holiday season rolling. This version closely mirrors the movie plot, with some additional musical numbers to spice up the staging, singing and dancing from this marvelous cast. The show plays through Dec. 3 at the Woodstock Opera House.

The story involves two fledgling sisters trying to break into show business in 1950s post-war America, Betty and Judy Haynes. The older of the two, Betty, has a more cynical view of life, and was skillfully portrayed by Janelle Graf with strong vocal ability and just the right amount of strength. Judy, played by Mollie Peery, is the more playful sister with a little bit of larceny in her soul. Peery is a remarkable dancer who has big tap shoes to fill in the role played by Vera-Ellen in the movie. Their act is reviewed by two army pals who have done well on Broadway and beyond, the great Wallace and Davis.

Theatre 121 presents "White Christmas" at the Woodstock Opera House.

Singing Irving Berlin’s classic tunes made famous by the most renowned crooner of them all, Bing Crosby, Chris Zeglin plays Bob Wallace with a great stage presence, voice and dance skills, successfully managing to put his own spin on all of it. It would be easy to try to mimic all the Bingisms in the movie, but Zeglin paves his own way. Once he is on stage, you cannot take your eyes off him. The comic foil of the duo, Phil Davis, is portrayed by Brian Heffernan, who was on point in the role from start to finish. He is the goofier more playful of the two, and pulls it off with aplomb.

There are other standout portrayals including the talented ensemble, but Martha Watson, the busybody housekeeper of the Columbia Inn in Pine Tree, Vermont, is played to perfection by Alison Hage. Hage reminds one of a young Eve Arden with the sassy wry delivery of one-liners and rebuffs to General Waverly. Hage has pipes, too, so the story line about her being a famous belting actress is plausible.

Theatre 121 presents "White Christmas" at the Woodstock Opera House.

The orchestra is dreamy, reminiscent of the big band era; and the scenic design, projections and carefully handled transitions make for a Christmas card to the movie, but with the additional numbers of “Blue Skies” and “I Love a Piano.”

The most notable full ensemble number is hard to call, but it has to go to the train car scene and the number “Snow.” The projections and staging of the beautifully built train car make the audience feel like they are riding along with everyone to Pine Tree. The inn itself and the rehearsal barn also are superbly designed with a real nod to the movie, but a color palette that springs from the stage. This is echoed in the costumes exquisitely designed by Kathy Bruhnke.

The song in Act I when the two duos first meet includes the lyrics: “The best things happen while you’re dancing,” but truly the best thing that can happen to you is to get to Woodstock and its beautiful town square and opera house to shake things up and enjoy this snow globe of a show.

• Mary Beth Euker is a founding director of Cricket Theatre Company in Lake Zurich, has appeared in shows at Devonshire Theatre in Skokie and Woodstock Opera House, and directs at Lake Zurich Middle School North and Spencer Loomis Elementary.


WHAT: Theatre 121′s “White Christmas”

WHERE: Woodstock Opera House, 121 Van Buren St., Woodstock

WHEN: Through Dec. 3

COST: Tickets start at $20

INFORMATION: 815-338-5300,