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REVIEW: 'White Christmas' musical a 'beautiful holiday card' for area

Mark Puetz, as Bob Wallace, leads a dance number during a recent Mitchell Area Community Theatre rehearsal of "White Christmas," which opened last weekend at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre in Mitchell. (Chris Huber/Republic)

In the canon of American movie musicals, "White Christmas" looms large with such well known screen stars as Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye.

The movie was produced as a vehicle to showcase the music of Irving Berlin and to provide 1954 audiences with some familiar holiday fare. Fast-forward to 2004, and the film was reverse-engineered into a stage play. Mitchell Area Community Theatre and directors Melissa Vatter-Miller and Devin Carey took a leap to attempt to stage such a large, well-known show, and like their talented dancers, they really hit their mark.

The plot is pretty simple. The successful song-and-dance act of Wallace and Davis has been performing since the pair met in the Army in Europe during World War II. Their current hit review is closing just before Christmas and the company is packing for Florida. At a nightclub, the boys take in the Haynes sisters' act. Phil (Tanner LaValliere) falls head-over-heels for Judy (Madison-Aisley Miller); Bob (Mark Puetz) and Betty (Elizabeth Moore) merely annoy each other.

Phil tricks Bob into following the girls to Vermont, where they're booked for the holidays at a ski resort. The inn is run by their former commanding officer, the crusty Gen. Henry Waverly (Al Jacklin). The general is broke, there's no snow for skiing, and the inn faces foreclosure. The foursome decides to hold a show in the barn to help save the day. A few misunderstandings and break-ups later, the guys get the gals, the show's a hit and everybody has a merry (and white) Christmas.

Thrown into the mix of supporting characters is Jeff Holstein as the temperamental stage manager, Mike, and a pair of flirty dancers, Rita and Rhoda, played by Pam Plastow and Julie Hofer. Kate Miller as Martha, the inn's closet-stage-star-concierge, the precocious Madison Miller as the general's granddaughter, Susan, and Troy Magnuson, a handyman of few words, provide the comic relief.

Using prerecorded orchestral accompaniment could have been problematic, but it works well. Mitchell's own "song and dance man," Puetz, is wonderful to watch. He brings a warmth and ease to each of his numbers, including "Blue Skies" and the iconic title song. LaValliere's dancing is also riveting, especially in the big production number "I Love a Piano." Carey as choreographer obviously worked overtime with his dancers and it shows. Moore and Madison-Ainsley Miller are well cast as the sister act. Both college students hold their own and, with more stage experience, will become a couple of young talents to watch in the future.

The set, designed by Carey, and constructed by Joe Pejsa and Al Jacklin, takes advantage of every inch of the stage with clever modules serving multiple purposes. See how they re-create a train car for "Snow" or a tony nightclub for "Love, You Didn't Do Right by Me."

A big thank you goes to Wayne and Mary Puetz, sponsors of the production. They have presented Mitchell with a great big, beautiful holiday card that can be enjoyed by all.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or