White+Christmas+at+Pit+and+Balcony


Article by Lisa Purchase Kelly

Scott Warnke loves the movie version of White Christmas; he sees it every year as part of his holiday tradition. But his best buddy Brooke Pieschke had never seen it even once. Then they were both cast in Pit & Balcony's stage production of White Christmas. So they sat down and watched the movie together. "I can see why people watch this over and over," said Brooke. "I fell in love with it … the costumes, the music, the story. Once I saw the movie, I couldn't wait to get going with this show!"

In Pit & Balcony's stage version Scott Warnke plays the part of song-and- dance-man Phil Davis (played by Danny Kaye in the movie), Brooke Pieschke plays the part of sultry songstress Betty Haynes (originally played by Rosemary Clooney), Daniel Taylor is cast as crooner Bob Wallace (played by Bing Crosby), and Allison Murray is the other half of the sister act, Judy Haynes (played in the film by the preternaturally thin Vera Ellen). While the story gets a few nips and tucks to fit neatly on the stage, the beloved songs and the lush costumes and the sentimental holiday vibe remain virtually the same, translating beautifully from screen to stage.

The stage adaptation originally premiered in San Francisco in 2004, has played in various big cities around the U.S., and played on Broadway last year. The original choreography in the movie was directed by an uncredited Bob Fosse (who himself appears in three of the movie's dance numbers). And the dancing gets top billing in this particular production as well, directed and choreographed by Mark Lingenfelter. David Lewis (cast as General Waverly) said, "In thirty years of doing shows here, I have not seen this level of dancing. We usually don't even attempt this kind of thing. There is all kind of tap dancing going on here, and they do it well! I am really impressed with this ensemble." Chorus member Kiri Brasseur cites the many big production numbers in the play, including an expanded version of "Blue Skies" that is the finale for Act I. "My favorite part of the show is all the tap dancing."

For other people, it's the songs that stand out. Brooke said her best moment in the show is getting to sing "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," from Rosemary Clooney's smooth and sexy nightclub act in the movie. And then there's the title song, which for many fans is the highlight of the show, a sentimental tear-jerker every time they see it. Written by Irving Berlin for an earlier movie, "White Christmas" was recorded by Bing Crosby and released as a single in October 1942 and steadily rose up the charts. What really made the song a success was its inclusion in the playlist of Armed Forces Radio. American GIs spending their first Christmas overseas during WWII wholeheartedly embraced the song's homespun sentiments. "I sang it many times in Europe in the field for soldiers, and they'd holler for it. They'd demand it. When I'd sing it, they'd all cry," Bing Crosby said. "It's nostalgic, and it's kind of poignant, you know, particularly during the war years; you know, so many young people were away and they'd hear this song. And it would happen to be that time of the year, it would really affect them." So the movie's story line partially grew out of Crosby's own experience singing "White Christmas" for soldiers. (source: rel="nofollow" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=111602)

In Pit & Balcony's production, Dan Taylor's rich and warm rendition of "White Christmas" brought that familiar tear of nostalgia to my eyes. Taylor does the song, the voice, and the sentiment justice. This moment alone is worth the price of admission.

From there the stage show moves quickly from WWII to 1954's Ed Sullivan Show, and the first big production number—a jazzy bouncy "Happy Holidays/Let Yourself Go". The aforementioned impressive dancing was very much in evidence, as well as some solid vocal harmonies from Taylor and Warnke, and the show was off and running; fast-paced and energetic, with all the nostalgia and holiday sentiment of the beloved movie.

Said Brooke Pieschke, "I love Christmas. This is one of the best shows because it's a way to share Christmas with your community. We love doing it, I think the audience will love seeing it, and everyone will leave here with just a little more holiday spirit."

White Christmas plays on the Pit & Balcony stage December 10-12, 17-19. Tickets are $22 ($18 for children under twelve). Call the Box Office at 754- 6587 or order tickets online at http://www.pitandbalconytheatre.com/.

© Lisa Purchase Kelly, 2010