Christmas comes early in St. Louis beginning July 17, when Howard Keel, Karen Mason, Lee Roy Reams and Lara Teeter star in a world premiere stage adaptation of the movie musical, "White Christmas," at The Muny.
The 1954 Paramount picture that starred Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney offered a post-war setting and musical hits such as "Sisters," "Count Your Blessings" and the title song, and has been reshaped for the stage by book writer Paul Blake, with direction by Charles Repole. Thommie Walsh (A Chorus Line, A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine) choreographs steps for a cast that also includes Lauren Kennedy and Karen Morrow.
The frivolous plot concerns two singing sisters who find themselves in a snow-less ski lodge in the company of a pair of Army buddies who are performers. A nosy housekeeper and a four-star general down on his luck complicate matters.
Performances continue to July 23 at the renowned outdoor theatre in St. Louis' sprawling Forest Park.
Movie-musical star Keel (Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Show Boat, Kiss Me, Kate) stars as General Waverly, Mason (Sunset Blvd.) is Betty Haynes (the Clooney role) and Lauren Kennedy (Side Show) is sister Judy Haynes (the Vera-Ellen role), Lara Teeter (On Your Toes, The Wizard of Oz) is Bob Wallace (the Crosby role), Reams (42nd Street) is Phil Davis (the Kaye role), and Karen Morrow is that nosy housekeeper. Blake, who has adapted other new works for The Muny, approached the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization about the Berlin material (the rights and use of which is overseen by R&H), targeting the tuner for The Muny's passionately traditional, mainstream audience.
There is no word about a future for this stage version, but Muny press rep Laura Peters said they are expecting a huge, crowd pleasing hit and "wouldn't be surprised" if White Christmas finds a future production elsewhere.
In the summer heat, it will snow throughout the 12,000-seat venue, and carolers, elves, Salvation Army bell-ringers, veterans from World War II and others will be on hand to make the experience more atmospheric.
Representatives from R&H, plus Berlin's daughters and interested producers are expected to attend.
Bert Fink of R&H said The Muny has been a popular home for the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein: The Sound of Music and a concert of Rodgers' work both play there this summer.
According to Berlin researcher Amy Asch, the seeds of White Christmas are hinted at in a little-known, unproduced Berlin stage musical called Stars On My Shoulder, written with Norman Krasna, about a retired Army general who is encouraged to run for president.
Tickets for White Christmas are $7-$40. For more information, call (314) 361-1900 or visit www.muny.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones