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THEATER

White Christmas has all the old-time trimmings

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published November 29, 2012 at 3:11 a.m.

shane-donovan-from-left-as-bob-jennifer-sheehan-as-betty-case-dillard-as-phil-and-sarah-agar-as-judy-star-in-the-arkansas-repertory-theatres-production-of-white-christmas

Shane Donovan (from left) as Bob, Jennifer Sheehan as Betty, Case Dillard as Phil and Sarah Agar as Judy star in the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s production of White Christmas.

— If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you can do more than just hum that ohso-hummable tune. The Arkansas Repertory Theatre has chosen White Christmas — a musical adaptation of a classic Paramount Pictures movie of the same name, complete with Irving Berlin songs, including “Blue Skies,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and, naturally, the title song — as its holiday show.

“I saw this show nine or 10 years ago in New York alongside Irving Berlin’s granddaughters,” says director Nicole Capri, the director and choreographer of the play and the Rep’s resident director and director of education. “At the time I thought the show was too big, but since then I guess I’ve gotten used to doing shows with lots of folks in our young people’s workshops and productions.

“The show has a cast of 21, plus a little girl who’s doublecast. I think it’s intriguing that it’s a show where we have actors who are playing actors who are transported away from their families during the holiday season, just as happens to them in real life.”

The 1954 movie version was a follow-up of sorts to the better-known 1942 movie Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney starred in the film, which is the tale of two Army buddies, following World War II, who become entertainers and travel to Vermont to accompany two sisters who were booked to perform there. Relationships bloom and problems occur, but all is well that ends well.

The musical theater adaptation uses Berlin’s musical and lyrics and has a libretto by David Ives and Paul Blake. The show premiered in San Francisco in 2004 and was on Broadway in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

The show’s principal actors are Case Dillard as Phil, Jennifer Sheehan as Betty, Shane Donovan as Bob and Sarah Agar as Judy. All except Dillard are making their first appearances at the Rep.

Dillard, a Little Rock native, will be performing in his ninth show at the Rep. He has previously been seen in Damn Yankees, Othello, Anything Goes, The Tempest, Gypsy, Cinderella, A Chorus Line and Tommy.

“I auditioned for this show’s original company back in ’06 in San Francisco,” Dillard notes. “I’ve been back in Little Rock since July. Before that I was out on tour with the Mary Poppins show, which made a stop in Fayetteville, so my family and friends were able to come see me there.”

Sheehan, who has been proclaimed a “rising cabaret star” by The New York Times, has performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. She has played Mrs. (Santa) Claus in the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular for five holiday seasons. She is excited to again be playing a “regular” sort of character.

“This musical is a great, sweet adaptation that features some great songs and splashy dance numbers,” Sheehan says. “It’s got a great nostalgic vibe to it that recalls the time of Norman Rockwell and the Currier & Ives paintings, representing the Christmas that I hope we don’t ever forget. It’s definitely a showcase of beautiful costumes and lights.”

Agar, a Cincinnati native who portrays Sheehan’s sister, agrees with her, adding that the show is not just about Christmas.

“It’s like a whole Irving Berlin songbook, actually,” Agar says. “It’s something to bring your grandchildren to see, with all the great songs, and costumes and the set design. And it’s going to snow!”

Donovan, a Boston native, plays the solid citizen who gets roped into adventures by old war buddy Phil.

“I play the crooner, the conservative guy who’s always listening to Phil, a songand-dance man who’s always putting on a show.”

Dillard, who plays the guy who’s always putting on a show, got to really put on a show for President Barack Obama and his family in 2010 at a Fourth of July celebration at the Ford Theatre in Washington.

“They were in the front row, and it was a fun event to hang out with them,” Dillard recalls. “Some of the others who were there were Colin Powell, Desmond Tutu and Lionel Richie. As part of the Broadway company of Mary Poppins, we got to sing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.’”

Others on Capri’s creative team are costume designer Liz Aaron, set designer Jeff Thomson, music director/keyboardist Mark Binns, lighting designer Phillip Franck and properties designer Lynda J. Kwallek.

“Reel Classics With the Rep” will feature a screening of the movie White Christmas at 6 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Laman Library, 2801 Orange St., North Little Rock. Members of the Rep’s creative team will discuss the show before the screening. For more information, call (501) 758-1720.

“The show is a lot of fun,” Capri says, “with lots of great energy. I’ve probably pushed this cast a lot more than usual, since they’re grown-ups. The music is beautiful and the story is classic.”

White Christmas

7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Dec. 30, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock (Preview performance at 7 p.m. today with preshow director’s talk from 6:15 to 6:45 p.m.)

Tickets: $30-$60; $10 off “A” section and $5 off “B” section seating through today. Student tickets half price with valid student ID.

Sign-interpreted performance for the hearing impaired on Wednesday (Dec. 5 only)

(501) 378-0405 or www.therep. org

Weekend, Pages 36 on 11/29/2012

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