Theater preview: 'White Christmas' director targets 'simple yet poignant' storyline

Published: Saturday, Nov. 23 2013 3:05 p.m. MST

CENTERVILLE — J. Scott Montgomery promises it will snow on stage of the Davis Center for the Performing Arts.

“Could we have ‘White Christmas’ without the magic of snow?” asks the director of the CenterPoint Legacy Theatre production.

As anyone who has channel-surfed Christmastime TV will recall, the movie musical begins near the end of World War II. Veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have formed a successful song-and-dance act. With romance on their minds, the theater stars follow a struggling sister act, comprised of Betty and Judy Haynes, to a Vermont lodge, which just happens to be owned by Gen. Waverly, Wallace and Davis’ former Army commander.

“The show is full of wonderful and grand production numbers as well as very simple, beautiful moments, too,” Montgomery explains. “The show really is about what Christmas should be for everyone. It’s about serving and helping those in need and it’s a love story too. The culmination of the whole show unfolds at the end as a giant Christmas gift from Bob Wallace and Phil Davis to General Waverly.”

With the recognition that “White Christmas” is a perfect Christmastime confection, the 1954 classic film was adapted for a 2004 San Francisco stage production.

"Step aside, ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Twirl back, ‘The Nutcracker.’ ‘White Christmas’ is a new kid on the seasonal entertainment block, and its star is (composer) Irving Berlin,” wrote The Oakland Tribune at its premiere.

The dazzling score features well-known standards “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “Sisters” and the record-selling title song. (According to legend, Berlin wrote the “White Christmas” song while poolside, basking in the California sunshine, at La Quinta Hotel.)

“Irving Berlin is an American musical genius and icon,” Montgomery says. “He is the father of American popular music. I don’t know of another American artist whose music has transcended so many generations and still influences music today.”

The “genius” of the songs written for “White Christmas” is “the marriage of those amazing American jazz standards with the style of the American musical,” he says. “It really makes for an entertaining evening of music in which we get to celebrate some of the best music written by Berlin but also one of the most-beloved American Christmas stories.”

“White Christmas” is also a snapshot of a confident, optimistic and warmhearted America, basking in its post-war glow.

“It is the patriotism and the respect for patriotism that drives this story,” the director says. “It’s Bob’s and Phil’s immense love and respect for Gen. Waverly that is the catalyst for this story. Likewise, the love story between Bob and Betty is strengthened by Bob’s resolve to help the general and his admiration for him as a war hero. It’s Bob’s recollections of his wartime experiences that allow him to open up and be vulnerable to Betty, but also allow Betty to see the true Bob Wallace. Each character in this story was affected by the war, and it’s the war that brings each of them together.”

What the stage adaptation doesn’t have is Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye (who replaced an ailing Donald O’Connor), who famously created the Wallace and Davis roles.

“As we approached this show we wanted to be true to the story and of course there are nostalgic elements we wanted to emulate and capture,” Montgomery explains. “However, the script for the musical does vary from the original movie. There are different characters, different musical numbers and even some of the storyline is altered slightly. We don’t try to re-create the performances of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye but rather focus on the storytelling of this simple yet poignant piece.”

If you go

What: CenterPoint Legacy Theatre’s “White Christmas”

Where: Davis Center for the Performing Arts

When: Nov. 29-Dec. 23

How much: $17-$21

Tickets: 801-298-1302 or centerpointtheatre.org

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