Boston's Wang Theatre will get its first brush with snow — on stage — Nov. 25, with the Beantown premiere of the musical comedy Irving Berlin's White Christmas.
This third concurrent staging of the film-inspired show follows openings at San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre and Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre. The same producers and creative team are reinventing the way presenting houses look at their holiday schedules. Although an expansion of the franchise has not been announced for 2006, more cities around the country are expected to see a White Christmas this time next year.
The Boston production continues to Dec. 31.
The production is directed by Walter Bobbie (Chicago, Sweet Charity) and choreographed by Randy Skinner (42nd Street), with a book by Paul Blake and David Ives. The score is pulled from the 1954 motion picture "White Christmas," which boasts such Berlin tunes as "Sisters" and "Count Your Blessings." The title tune was already a hit by the 1950s.
At the Wang, as in San Fran and L.A., a company of 30 sings and dances to favorite tunes by songwriter Berlin. And, yes, "snow" falls on the audience in each town.
White Christmas is the optimistic yarn about decent people who hurdle personal misunderstandings to end up being, well, decent people who are full of good cheer during the holidays in 1954. World War II Army buddies and showmen Bob and Phil (played in Boston by Stephen Bogardus and Michael Gruber) meet the sister act of Betty and Judy (Kerry O'Malley and Nadine Isenegger) and end up at a Vermont Inn run by the guys' former commanding officer, Gen. Waverly (played by Terry Beaver). The inn has fallen on hard times, and so has the general, despite the presence of his caring ex-actress "concierge," Martha (played by Karen Morrow), and a visit by his granddaughter, Susan (played by Katherine Doherty).
The showfolk find a solution to the general's post-war malaise by planning a show at the inn — on Christmas Eve, no less. Cue the snow.
All of this is sweetened by classic Berlin songs from the film ("The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Love You Didn't Do Right By Me," "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings") and some interpolations ("Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," "Love and the Weather," "I Love a Piano," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Let Yourself Go").
The Boston company features John Anthony as Ralph Sheldrake, Terry Beaver as Gen. Waverly, Stephen Bogardus as Bob Wallace, Katherine Doherty as Susan Waverly, Michael Gruber as Phil Davis, Nadine Isenegger as Judy Haynes, Karen Morrow as Martha Watson, Kerry O'Malley as Betty Haynes, with Lyric Beth Ackelson, Ken Alan, Kelli Barclay, David Baum, Robin Campbell, Kevin Crewell, Beth Crosby, Mara Davi, Lianne Marie Dobbs, J. Austin Eyer, Leslie Frankel, Luke Hawkins, Michael Thomas Holmes, Todd Lattimore, Melissa Lone, Melissa Rae Mahon, Ritchie Mastascusa, Pilar Millhollen, Missy Morrison, Denise Nolin, Richard Pruitt, Vincent Rodriguez III, Matthew Schneider, Kristyn D. Smith and Kevin Worley.
The creative team includes Anna Louizos (set design), Carrie Robbins (costume design), Ken Billington (lighting design), Acme Sound Partners (sound design), Michael J. Passaro (production supervisor), Larry Blank (orchestrations), Rob Berman (musical supervisor), Bruce Pomahac (vocal and dance arrangements), Marc Bruni (associate director), John David (production stage manager), Brian Lynch (technical supervisor).
The show's producers are The Producing Office, Paul Blake, Dan Markley, Sonny Everett in association with Paramount Pictures. Associate producers are Richard A. Smith, Douglas L. Meyers, James D. Stern.
A developmental production of Irving Berlin's White Christmas was presented at the MUNY in St. Louis, MO.
Walter Bobbie is the Tony Award winner who directed Chicago, Sweet Charity and Footloose. Randy Skinner is the tap wizard of the original and revival productions of Broadway's 42nd Street.
The triplicate Manhattan rehearsal process in October sounded like something out of a Marx Brothers movie. Did a wide-eyed Walter Bobbie dash in and out of doors every five minutes to address different scenes? Sort of, Bobbie told Playbill.com. "Organization" is the key, he said in an interview in between busy rehearsals in October.
"The Producing Office is really on top of it," he explained. "They wanted to make this happen so they did a lot of things to insure we could. We have two floors of 890 Broadway, we have two full rehearsal sets, we've got I don't know how many rooms down there. I also have nine stage managers, three for each production; three conductors, three associate conductors, dance captains. There are all these little units."
How does he manage to oversee it all?
"I have an incredible team," Bobbie said. "We came back from last year and the first thing we did was get together in January and say, What did we learn? What should we do? How do we make this happen if this were suddenly done in multiple companies? [Production supervisor] Michael Passaro's an extraordinary stage manager, and the way he and my associate director Marc Bruni have helped me organize this plan is quite remarkable. I know it sounds foolish, but it's actually possible! We also have our technical supervisor, Brian Lynch, revising a few things [from last year] so things are pre-set [for the rehearsal room]. [Actors'] Equity allowed us to do costume fittings over the summer before we were in rehearsal because we have something like 900 costumes — 300 each production. All of these things were enormously helpful."
In 2004, for the world premiere of this new production, the creative team was still discovering the show. "We were writing it, rewriting it," Bobbie said. "Although we had done many, many drafts before we began rehearsal, we were refining it in the room. We go into this year knowing how it works. We created a template for rehearsing the show."
For more information about the three productions, visit www.whitechristmasthemusical.com.
For the record, the stage version's complete score includes Overture, "Happy Holiday," "Let Yourself Go," "Love and the Weather," "Sisters," "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," "Snow," "What Do You Do With a General?," "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy," "Count Your Blessings," "Blue Skies," Entr'acte, "I Love a Piano," "Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun," "Sisters" (reprise), "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me"/"How Deep Is the Ocean," "We'll Follow the Old Man," "Let Me Sing and I'm Happy" (reprise), "How Deep is the Ocean" (reprise), "We'll Follow the Old Man" (reprise), "White Christmas" and Finale: "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm."