Merry and Bright? Producers Hope White Christmas Will Play Broadway This Year

By Kenneth Jones
June 25, 2008

The splashy, big-cast, Broadway-style White Christmas that has been seen in a Walter Bobbie-directed production in San Francisco, Boston, Detroit, Toronto, Los Angeles and St. Paul may be coming to Broadway.

Producer Kevin McCollum and his White Christmas producing colleagues (including his partner at The Producing Office, Jeffrey Seller) are doing the math and talking to unions, theatre owners and others about putting the popular stage version of the 1954 movie musical (with songs by Irving Berlin) into the Marquis Theatre for a limited engagement starting this fall. Cry-Baby closed at the Marquis June 22.

McCollum told Playbill.com he's trying to create a new producing model for a large musical that will run less than ten weeks. The show would use 24 musicians and 32 people on stage.

"I'm trying to get everybody on the same page," McCollum said of discussions with unions. "Is this something that we can and should be doing on Broadway?"

McCollum said he's hoping there will be some flexibility for this special circumstance: a two-and-a-half-hour, large-cast, large-set show such as White Christmas, where union people will ultimately benefit from two months of work (more, with rehearsal time).

Because of the seasonal nature of White Christmas, a seven-and-a-half week run is the goal, running mid-November to early January 2009. McCollum said he's hoping to present nine performances a week (one performance more than is usual) for three weeks of the run.

"There is a lot of work still behind the scenes to get the model massaged," he admitted, adding that he wishes he could have gone on sale the moment Cry-Baby announced that it was closing.

The musical, directed by Bobbie and choreographed by Randy Skinner (the tap whiz of 42nd Street), launched in San Francisco in 2004. Audiences there and in subsequent cities over the years felt as if they had a brassy Broadway musical built especially for them a show that New York City hadn't seen yet.

The Bobbie-steered version, with script by David Ives and Paul Blake, has since become a licensable property (from R&H Theatricals) that is being done by amateur groups and resident professional companies.

But North America's most high-profile, flagship White Christmas has been the McCollum-Seller Producing Office show, which has been cast with Broadway stars (variously, Stephen Bogardus, Brian d'Arcy James, Karen Morrow, Kerry O'Malley, David Ogden Stiers, among others) and a full regiment of tap-happy chorus folk.

And, yes, "snow" falls on the audience in each town.

The score includes some of composer-lyricist Berlin's most fetching songs, including the title number, "Blue Skies," "The Best Thing Happen While You're Dancing," "Count Your Blessings," "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," "Sisters," "How Deep is the Ocean," "I Love a Piano" and more.

White Christmas tells the story of two World War II veterans who are showbiz stars, and how they fall in love with a sister act while putting on a show to try to save their former commander's inn in picturesque Vermont.

The creative team of Irving Berlin's White Christmas (its official title) 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) and Brian Lynch (technical supervisor).

There is a precedent for limited-run holiday engagements on Broadway: A Tuna Christmas and Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas! were both popular titles.

The Cirque du Soleil show Wintuk at Madison Square Garden and The Radio City Christmas Spectacular are two holiday titles that would compete with White Christmas for seasonal audiences in New York City.

A Broadway presence for White Christmas would strengthen the musical's brand name and help fuel national interest for future Bobbie-directed sitdowns in major markets.

Separate productions of the Bobbie-staged White Christmas have already been announced for St. Paul, MN, and Detroit this season.

McCollum and Seller produced the current Broadway shows Rent, Avenue Q and In the Heights.

Visit www.whitechristmasthemusical.com.