Tri-State Theater

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Previewing "White Christmas"

My pal Dave Lavender filed a great story today about this weekend's premiere of White Christmas - and here it is:
As if on cue, snowflakes are dancing to the ground, shoppers are rushing home with their treasures and Maxine Loudermilk no longer has to just dream of a "White Christmas."

The executive director of the City of Huntington Foundation had been applying for years so that when the Broadway musical, "Irving Berlin's White Christmas: Musical," was released to community theaters that the Foundation's 5th Avenue Theatre Company would get the rights to do the show.

Wish granted.

One of only 20 community theaters across the country with rights to the show, Fifth Avenue presents the region's first performance of "White Christmas," at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 5 and 12, at the Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium located in Huntington's City Hall.

Tickets are $15 and $12 for children 12 and under.

Director Eddie Harbert, who will be directing, "Titanic: The Musical," for Fifth Avenue in the spring, said bringing in "White Christmas" has long been a dream of Loudermilks, who is serving as the show's producer.

"It's kind of a big deal," Harbert said of snagging the rights to the show. "Maxine started five years ago trying to get the rights for the show and just kept applying and applying. The musical had exclusively been on Broadway during the holidays, but when they released it, because she had asked so long ago, they actually gave her the rights."

Loudermilk, who was applying every six months or so to get the rights, said she stood at the side of the stage Wednesday night in rehearsal and wept watching her favorite holiday movie come alive.

"I stood and cried last night when I watched it," Loudermilk said as snow fell from the stage during the closing number. "We have just wonderful people giving their heart and soul to it ... It is one of my favorite movies that I watch every holiday season and to me it is the most wonderful thing we could do around here."

Harbert said there's been a big buzz surrounding the show, which brings to life the classic holiday movie and that features a slew of Berlin's most beloved songs such as "Blue Skies," "How Deep is the Ocean," and of course, the unforgettable title song, "White Christmas," which is the number one Christmas song of all time.

That buzz has translated into unprecedented tickets sales which started in October, Harbert said. In fact, he said people better scramble and get tickets quick because they are almost gone for this weekend.

"To be truthful I have been surprised at the response," Harbert said. "People that I grew up with 21/2 hours away are wanting to come and see 'White Christmas.' But we've got a lot of people out-of-state coming to see it because 'White Christmas' is one of those things that people get excited about. It's such a classic like a 'Wizard of Oz.' People have a lot of good memories associated with the movie. It's part of their childhood and everyone wants to be taken back to good memories."

Packed with music and dancing, the show follows Army buddies Bob Wallace (Josh Janotta) and Phil Davis (Greg Kisor), first on the Western Front in World War II and then in their travels to New York and to a ski resort in Vermont where Wallace and Davis try to save the inn owned by General Waverly (Scott Black) by having a show in the barn of the inn.

Communications get skewed, fun ensues, and the buddies find perfect mates in the process.

Written by Berlin for the 1942 movie musical, "Holiday Inn," the song softly crooned by Bing Crosby, has gone on to sell more than 100 million copies, making it the best selling record of all time, and one that Crosby sang again in "Blue Skies," in 1946 as well as the classic movie, "White Christmas" in 1954.

Harbert said "White Christmas" has been an epic journey in every way, taking a small army of folks to bring the movie alive on stage.

The show features a cast of 25 actors and singers, including such theater veterans as Angela Wolfe-Hunt and Jessica Maier (playing Betty and Judy Haynes) as well as a rarity for 5th Avenue -- a 13-piece orchestra -- under the direction of Mike Campbell.

"Having a live orchestra is something new to us since orchestras cost so much money," Harbert said. "But there has been more support for this show than any I've ever seen. We have a 60-page program which I've never had. You get a book when you come and see 'White Christmas.'"

One of the first calls of duty when Harbert signed on for the show was casting in July, and then promptly getting measurements to Magic Makers, the national costume supply house in Huntington, which custom-made the more than 100 costumes needed for "White Christmas," which has a costume mistress, Diane Styles.

"Most of the cast has three to four costume changes and we have 25 people in the cast," Harbert said. "So it was a pretty big job finding the costumes from the 1940s and 1950s. Since this is the first time that the show has been allowed to be performed by community theater, Magic Makers did not have all of the costumes so they had to make them."

While Kerri Easter Stambaugh, who plays Rita, is choreographing the tap-dance-filled show, there is also quite a dance going on the technical side with the show's unique swinging and swiveling sets changed out while folks are still on stage singing as scenes change.

Harbert said tech director and set designer Suzi Henderson has been working since Nov. 1, on choreographing set changes with the eight stage hands.

"It's on wheels, and because it was a Hollywood musical we have to flip the scenes easily so we had to be in New York then on a train and then in an office in New York and in an Inn in Vermont talking so the actors stay on stage and the set revolves around them," Harbert said.

As if putting on the super-sized Christmas show wasn't enough, 5th Avenue has also added a children's pre-show with 16 children performing an original show written by Staci Bond, who works in the children's department at the Cabell County Public Library.

And when folks come into the lobby, there will be a rotating mix of carolers, a band, and dancers from Nancy's School of Dance.

"We wanted to set the mood and to get everybody into the Christmas spirit and to take people back to this whole community of the 1950s where everything stayed in the community and people's lives revolved around church and community activities," Harbert said. "We're having all these activities in the lobby and that creates that feeling of small-town Christmas which is what the show is all about."

WHAT: The City of Huntington Foundation's 5th Avenue Theatre Company's production of "White Christmas"

WHERE: Jean Carlo Stephenson Auditorium located in Huntington's City Hall

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11, and 2:30 p.m. Sundays, Dec. 5 and 12.

HOW MUCH: $15 and $12 for children 12 and under.

GET TICKETS: At the door or contact Maxine Loudermilk, 304-696-5522, to make reservations or get additional information.

BEFORE THE SHOW: Come early and enjoy carolers in the lobby as well as Staci Bond's children's pre-show.

THE CAST: There are 25 in the cast. Some of the main characters and actors include Bob Wallace played by Josh Janotta, Phil Davis played by Greg Kisor, Betty Haynes played by Angela Hunt, Judy Haynes played by Jessica Maier, Gen. Waverly played by Scott Black and Susan Waverly played by Maggie Rawn and Emma Tapley, Martha Watson played by Elaine Tapley and Ralph Sheldrake played by Elijah Boyles.

BEHIND THE SCENES: "White Christmas" is directed by Eddie Harbert with Mike Campbell, musical director. Choreographer is Kerri Easter Stambaugh. Producer is Maxine Loudermilk. Assistant director is Carol Scarberry, stage manager is Cynthia Simmons, Props coordinator is Helga Thorn, props mistress is Pat Manis. Costume mistress is Diane Styles. Set design is Suzi Henderson and sound is Bill Galloway.

ABOUT THE SHOW: The story of "White Christmas" begins on the Western Front in World War II and then travels to New York and continues in the state of Vermont where Bob Wallace and Phil Davis try to save the inn owned by General Waverly by having a show in the barn of the inn. Communications get skewed, and the fun ensues. This fun, romantic comedy introduced great songs such as "White Christmas," "Sisters" and "I Love a Piano." "Snow" and "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing."

ON DECK: Other upcoming 5th Avenue Theatre productions include, "Titanic the Musical," May 6-8 and May 12-15, 2011, directed by Eddie Harbert and "Noises Off," Sept. 9-11 and Sept. 16-18, 2011, directed by Stephanie Sands.

ON THE WEB: Go online at www.cityofhuntingtonfoundation.com for more info.

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