‘White Christmas’ salutes the holidays and the military at Toby’s Dinner Theatre

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'White Christmas' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 1)

It’s become an annual holiday tradition for families to watch the 1954 movie, “White Christmas.” This season, Toby’s Dinner Theatre is presenting the classic story on stage, now through Jan. 9.

“There’s exciting choreography, an Irving Berlin score, beautiful costumes and ‘snowww!'” Director Mark Minnick told WTOP, in between singing the famous title song from the show.

The film follows war veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye), who have a successful song-and-dance act after World War II. They follow a pair of singing sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to a Christmas show at a Vermont lodge.

Toby’s stage version welcomes the return of some favorite local actors.

“Toby’s favorites Jeffrey Shankle and David James [are] together again,” Minnick said. “They’re amazing together. The beautiful singing sisters are Janine Sunday and Alicia Osbourn. Many of Toby’s patrons will recognize them. They’re just favorites. They’re wonderful. They’re triple threats that give 110% every time. We’re blessed to have them.”

In the story, the lodge is owned by Bob and Phil’s former commander, General Waverly, played by Robert Biedermann.

“My father was up for admiral in the Navy, my brother was a commander, my mother was a WAVE, and I was a lieutenant during Vietnam,” Biedermann told WTOP. “It was an honor to play this role … I went to the University of Pennsylvania Navy ROTC … and my graduation gift was being notified that my ship would be off the coast of Vietnam.”

One night at Toby’s, Biedermann took a moment to salute a fellow veteran in the audience.

“I reference invisible soldiers in the audience in my script, but there was a 92-year-old veteran sitting in a wheelchair,” Biedermann said. “I pointed to him and said, ‘Oh, Dogface! Haynes, you look as good as ever,’ and I saluted him. He saluted me back and the audience just weeped, including me and the rest of the guys on stage.”

The show’s main theme is soldiers stationed overseas “dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know.” It was a sentiment many soldiers felt at the height of World War II, and reflected in Crosby’s original rendition of the song in the 1942 film “Holiday Inn.”.

“Nobody writes music like Irving Berlin,” Minnick said. “These tunes are timeless. They’re hummable, you can understand the lyrics … We have ‘I Love a Piano’ where everyone in the cast comes out in costumes that match a piano. There’s ‘Sisters,’ the iconic song that the girls do with the fans [and] ‘Blue Skies’ … a phenomenal seven-minute dance routine.”

You’ll also hear the touching lullaby “Counting Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”.

“We all think we have troubles and we forget how many blessings we’re given,” Beidermann said. “In today’s world, there’s a lot of troubles, we need to just keep looking around and counting our blessings. I have a feeling most of us have more blessings than troubles.”

“I get to listen to Jeffrey Shankle all the time singing that to a child before I come on,” he said.

In addition to the songs, you’ll also see festive holiday visuals calling back to the 1954 Technicolor movie that was the first film shot in widescreen VistaVision.

“We are an in-the-round setting, which means the audience is in 360-degrees around,” Minnick said. “Our set designer has been incredibly creative with rooftop pillars and designs on our wall that represent the inn and the barn at the same time. A lot of the pop comes from the beautiful costuming by Janine Sunday. The period clothes are beautiful.”

Of course, it is also a dinner theater, so folks can also enjoy a buffet during the show.

“We have a great buffet, beautiful comfort food,” Minnick said. “We have chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, broccoli. Salads and desserts are served to your table to eliminate crowding … Beautiful dinner, beautiful show.”

To quote Clark Griswold in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” you’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with Danny f’n Kaye.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'White Christmas' at Toby's Dinner Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow WTOP on Twitter and Instagram to engage in conversation about this article and others.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2021 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up