Snow in L.A.! Irving Berlin's White Christmas Begins Nov. 22 in City of Angels

By Kenneth Jones
November 22, 2005

Irving Berlin's White Christmas, the new stage musical that was a hit in San Francisco in 2004, has a sister production that begins at Los Angeles' Pantages Theatre Nov. 22.

The production directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Randy Skinner, with a book by Paul Blake and David Ives, is one of three separate sitdowns playing concurrently in the nation this holiday season.

In San Francisco, a second annual staging began Nov. 9, at the Orpheum Theatre. The Wang Theatre in Boston will launch a third production Nov. 25.

At the Pantages, as in San Fran and Beantown, a company of 30 sings and dances to favorite tunes by songwriter Berlin. And, yes, "snow" falls on the audience in each town. The L.A. run plays to Jan. 1, 2006. The Boston Wang Theatre run plays to Dec. 31.

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 L.A. by Brian d'Arcy James and Jeffry Denman) meet the sister act of Betty and Judy (Anastasia Barzee and Meredith Patterson) and end up at a Vermont Inn run by the guys' former commanding officer, Gen. Waverly (played by "M*A*S*H" vet David Ogden Stiers). The inn has fallen on hard times, and so has the general, despite the presence of his caring ex-actress "concierge," Martha (played by Ruth Williamson), and a visit by his granddaughter, Susan (played by Danielle Milano).

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 Los Angeles company features Darrin Baker as Ralph Sheldrake, Anastasia Barzee as Betty Haynes, Brian D'Arcy James as Bob Wallace, Jeffry Denman as Phil Davis, Danielle Milano as Susan Waverly, David Ogden Stiers as Gen. Waverly, Meredith Patterson as Judy Haynes, Ruth Williamson as Martha Watson, with Phillip Attmore, Cliff Bemis, Erich Bergen, Karli Blalock, Colin Bradbury, Abbie Cooper, Erin Crouch, Steven Donahue, Mary Giattino, James Gray, JT Horenstein, Wendy James, Matthew Kilgore, Craig A. Meyer, Stephanie Morse, Aleksandr Pevec, Keven Quillon, Kelly Sheehan, Melissa Giattino Shore, Vanessa Sonon, Theresa Anne Swain, Anna White, Jacob Ben Widmar, Kristen Beth Williams, Melissa Wolfklain. Music director is Steven Freeman, associate music director is James May.

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.

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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.