Merry and Bright: San Francisco Welcomes White Christmas Nov. 9-Dec. 31

News   Merry and Bright: San Francisco Welcomes White Christmas Nov. 9-Dec. 31 It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco, where Irving Berlin's White Christmas begins an engagement Nov. 9 for the second year in a row.
Brian d'Arcy James in the original production of White Christmas.
Brian d'Arcy James in the original production of White Christmas. Photo by Samuel H. Gottscho

The test run of the new stage version of the 1954 movie musical was such a hit last year in San Francisco that the new Orpheum staging is one of three distinct productions in concurrent runs in 2005. Stagings in Boston and Los Angeles begin in the coming weeks.

At the Orpheum, a company of 30 sings and dances to favorite tunes by songwriter Berlin. And, yes, "snow" will fall on the audience.

Walter Bobbie (Chicago, Sweet Charity) directs, Randy Skinner (42nd Street) choreographs and the new libretto — improving, many say, on the original screenplay — is by Paul Blake and David Ives.

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 by Graham Rowat and Mark Ledbetter) meet the sister act of Betty and Judy (Kate Baldwin and Shannon O'Bryan) and end up at a Vermont Inn run by the guys' former commanding officer, Gen. Waverly (played by Charles Dean). The inn has fallen on hard times, and so has the general, despite the presence of his caring ex-actress "concierge," Martha (played by Susan Mansur), and a visit by his granddaughter, Susan (played by Nicole Bocchi).

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 three companies will be rolled out in this order: San Francisco's Orpheum Theatre Nov. 9-Dec. 31; Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre Nov. 22-Jan. 1, 2006; Boston's Wang Theatre Nov. 25-Dec. 31.

The San Francisco company features Kate Baldwin as Betty Haynes, Nicole Bocchi as Susan Waverly, Charles Dean as Gen. Waverly, Mark Ledbetter as Phil Davis, Susan Mansur as Martha Watson, Mike Masters as Ralph Sheldrake, Shannon O'Bryan as Judy Haynes and Graham Rowat as Bob Wallace, with Jeremy Benton, Andrew Black, Graham Bowen, Patrick Boyd, Sara Brians, Kathy Calahan, Tom Deckman, Sarah Marie Hicks, Alex Hsu, Drew Humphrey, Matthew Brandon Hutchens, Megan Hart Jimenez, Katie Kerwin, Kristie Kerwin, Matthew Kirk, Cara Kjellman, Frank Kopyc, Hannah Rose Kornfeld, Jessica Kostival, Jennifer Mathie, Brent McBeth, Emily Morgan, James Pattersson, Wendy Rosoff, Laura Schutter. Ben Whitely is music director.

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.

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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.

"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.

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