White Christmas: Same Spirit, Different Script From Movie
By Carrina Stanton
For The Chronicle
Michelle Koenen stepped up to direct “White Christmas” at the Evergreen Playhouse because she felt it was an important story to tell this holiday season, both for the people who love all things Christmas and for the people, like her, who aren’t as into holiday cheer but who love a good story with great music.
“I love that this holiday show has a holiday feel without being overly in your face,” Koenen said.
“White Christmas” will open at Centralia’s Evergreen Playhouse Dec. 2 and run through Dec. 18.
Set just after World War II, it follows the story of veterans Bob (portrayed by Noah McKenzieSullivan) and Phil (portrayed by Sean-Patrick McNeal) who start a successful song-and-dance duo. With love on their minds, they give up a trip to perform in Florida to follow a duo of singing sisters Betty (portrayed by Melyssa Johnson) and Judy (portrayed by Lizzie Conner) to a Christmas show at a Vermont Lodge owned by their former commander (portrayed by Ed Thorpe).
“It’s a good way to get into the spirit of Christmas,” said Johnson, who is appearing in her first-ever stage production as part of the cast. “It’s been a really dark season and I think this would be a really great way to connect with the community.”
“White Christmas” is perhaps best known for the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby as Bob and Rosemary Clooney as Betty. While the stage version is similar to the movie, there are many differences between the two. McNeal explained that one huge difference is the motivation behind much of the action and the characters’ decisions.
“It’s a nice, fresh take on it,” McNeal said. “So, if you’ve seen the movie, it’ll be a nice surprise.”
Koenen said a couple of songs that she really didn’t care for in the movie version are absent from the stage production. She added that she thinks the music that is left makes so much more sense because there are better background stories.
“The actual build-up to all the productions is different,” she explained. “Each production has a purpose more than in the movie.”
Even with some variation, the Evergreen Playhouse’s production of “White Christmas” will still feature the well-known standards from the iconic tale such as “Blue Skies,” “Sisters” and “How Deep is the Ocean.” And the show still culminates with “White Christmas,” which audience members will be encouraged to sing along with the cast.
“It’s an experience of the music from that era,” McKenzieSullivan said.
The whole piece will be a visual treat for audience members, Conner added. She noted that the show features many flashy musical numbers as well as colorful scenery and costumes.
“The costumes are eye-popping in the show,” Conner said. “This is probably my favorite show I’ve done, costumes-wise.”
This is Koenen’s first time directing a full-length show at the Evergreen Playhouse. She had previously directed a One From the Shelf and has directed youth in school theatrical productions. One detail in “White Christmas” that audience members may or may not notice in the final production is that Koenen emphasized an inclusive cast, some of whom are acting for the first time and some of whom live with disabilities.
“I think that’s important, especially in the holiday season,” Koenen said.
Since “White Christmas” is the holiday show at the Evergreen Playhouse, the concession stand plans to have special holiday themed drinks and the theater will feature a holiday themed photo display where audience members can take pictures. It should also be noted that the Saturday Dec. 10 show will be a 2 p.m. matinee instead of the typical 7:30 p.m. Saturday show to accommodate traffic and parking for the downtown Centralia Lighted Tractor Parade.
If You Go …
What: HUBBUB presents “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas”
When: Dec. 2-18, 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Saturday, Dec. 10, performance will be at 2 p.m. as well because of the Lighted Tractor Parade. A Pay-What-You-Can performance will be held at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 8.
Where: Evergreen Playhouse, 226 West Center St., Centralia
Tickets: $18 adults, $15 students/seniors