Kate Baldwin and Graham Rowat, a husband and wife team who star in Irving Berlin's White Christmas, on stage at the Sony Centre. ((DavidAllenStudio.com/Sony Centre))

A show that takes an old chestnut of a song and turns into a frothy holiday treat has opened in Toronto.

Irving Berlin's White Christmas builds on the 1954 movie and the popular song of the same name in a stage production that combines Broadway pizzazz withadditional songs from the Berlin songbook.

"People come because they have fond memories of the film or they love the music of Irving Berlin," said director Walter Bobbie, who claims the show is already becoming a Christmas tradition inAmerican cities.

The Toronto production opened Tuesday to a standing ovationat theSony Centre for the Performing Arts,he said.

"We had the traditional terrible dress rehearsal with technical glitches, then a smooth opening night."

Prolific American composer Berlin may have written as many as 3,000 songs, including White Christmas,his most covered work.

But he wrote very few complete musicals. "It's hard to do an Irving Berlin musical — there's just Annie Get Your Gun and Call Me Madam," Bobbie told CBC News.

Yet audiences still crave Berlin's clever lyrics and catchy tunes.

The show had its genesis when New York producer Kevin McCollum, who produced Avenue Q and The Drowsy Chaperone, got the rights toproduce a stage version of the1954 movie.

He alsonegotiated withrights holders to gain access to Berlin's back catalogue of songs and got approvalto weave a host of favourites into the play, including Blue Skies, Let Yourself Hope, Happy Holidays and I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm.

A team of Broadway veterans then put together a production Bobbie describes as a "big MGM musical" with 300 costumes, singing and dancing.

Bobbie, who directed the New York revival of Chicago and Sweet Charity, worked with writerDavid Ives and Paul Blake and choreographer Randy Skinner to create the current version of the show.

The story is similar to the movie — a pair of showbiz buddies team up with two female singers try to revive the fortunes of a Vermont inn by putting on ashow and along the way they fall in love.

Irving Berlin's White Christmasopened in San Francisco in 2004, went on to Detroit, Boston and Los Angeles and this year is playing again in Boston, as well as in Toronto.

The first 2004 show was a rush job, Bobbie says, but the $5-million production charmed audiences from the start.

"We were very fortunate that it came together well, but we had an Irving Berlin score to back us up," he said.

"We did some tweaking each year, but it's essentially the same show here in Toronto."

Canadians cast big presence

The Toronto show features singers and dancers from some of the earlier touring shows, but also has a strong Canadian cast.

"In our second season, Graham Rowat and Kate Baldwin joined us. He's from Toronto and they're a wonderful husband and wife team."

Rowat, a veteran of LoveMusik and Dracula on Broadway, and Beauty and the Beast in Toronto, is a graduate of Ryerson Theatre School.

He plays one of the male leads, the showman played by Bing Crosby in the movie version.

Bobbie came to Toronto last spring to cast the show and was able to nab talents such as Stratford festival's Nora McLellan and Victoria-born actor Barry Flatman.

The other Canadians in the cast include 10-year-old Cassidy Swanston as Susan Waverly and Ana Golja as her understudy.

Irving Berlin's White Christmas is at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts until Jan. 5.