For Kerry O'Malley, performing at Boston's Wang Theatre in White Christmas is something of a homecoming. Not only is this her third go-round in the role of Betty Haynes, but the Nashua, NH, native gets to be near her family during the holiday season.
"Doing this show is a kind of Christmas present," says O'Malley, who played Betty when the musical was first staged in Boston in 2005 and returned to the role last year in St. Paul. "I love everything about it: the songs, the costumes, the story. And to be in New England, which I love, and get paid to be near my family, is just icing on the cake. A lot of the work I do is very dark. For me to get to do a Christmas show and wear pretty dresses and sing Irving Berlin songs is a treat."
Since director Walter Bobbie and choreographer Randy Skinner launched the show in San Francisco in 2004, they've developed a virtual White Christmas repertory company. Joining O'Malley in Boston, where the show runs through Dec. 23, are three of the original stars of the San Francisco company: Brian d'Arcy James, Jeffrey Denman and Meredith Patterson. A second production in Toronto, which plays through Jan. 5 at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, includes White Christmas veterans Graham Rowat, Kate Baldwin and Shannon O'Bryan.
"So many people come back to the show every year, which is a testament to how much they enjoy doing it," says O'Malley. "It's an incredibly joyful evening. Nowadays, so much of musical theatre is about screaming your guts out. I can't stand it. But White Christmas is Irving Berlin. The show and the songs tell a story, convey emotion and move you — and you don't have to scream." O'Malley, who can currently be seen on Showtime's "Brotherhood" as Mary-Kate and has two films opening next year, is best known to New York audiences for her portrayal of the Baker's Wife in the 2002 revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Into the Woods. "A lot of people were mad at me for not being Joanna Gleason," she says, laughing, referring to the original Baker's Wife. "I've seen people in revivals who were crippled under the weight of their predecessor. But James and Steve were wonderful to me. I did the show for a year, and it was a joy to do. Steve is like musical theatre's Shakespeare. You could actually have a career doing just his shows. You could start out as a young woman playing Fredrika and end up playing Madame Armfeldt. You can make your way from the ingénues to the leading ladies to the older women, and have great parts the entire way. His work is that rich and varied."
O'Malley's big break occurred a decade ago, when she appeared as Fran Kubelik opposite Martin Short's Chuck Baxter — a role originated by Jerry Orbach — in an Encores! production of Promises, Promises. "I did 'Law and Order' after that, and I told Jerry that I had just played Fran," she says. "He said, 'I so wanted to see it, but I couldn't come because of our shooting schedule.' And then he invited me into his trailer, and we sat there and watched a tape of him singing 'Basketball' on the Tony Awards. He was so excited to share this with someone who knew him from his heyday in theatre and not just as Lennie Briscoe. It was a magical moment for me. He was such a lovely, lovely man. Sometimes people surprise and delight you with their humanity and generosity."