Sterling College Theatre to perform “White Christmas” at Homecoming
Taking a beloved movie musical and bringing it to life on the stage is a challenge. Such was the case when adapters created Irving Berlin’s White Christmas which will be staged by Sterling College Music Theatre on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, October 6, 7, and 8 at 7:30 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 9.
Based on the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, “White Christmas” tells the story of two Army buddies who hit it big in showbiz and put on a show in a picturesque Vermont inn and happen to find their perfect mates along the way. The movie is filled with warm sentiment, a nice mix of comedy and romance and 10 Irving Berlin songs.
Playwrights David Ives and Paul Blake were charged with adapting the Paramount movie for the stage. They knew that a movie musical doesn’t have nearly as many songs that a stage musical. So, they went to the Irving Berlin song catalog and added seven songs to the show including “I Love a Piano,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and “Happy Holidays.”
“The show is really a celebration of Irving Berlin music,” said Sterling director Sasha Hildebrand. “You have to really deliver the audience's expectations. You have to come up with a way to make it fit the stage but have the audience leave at the end feeling satisfied like they had really seen the movie but with even more of the good stuff – music and dance.”
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is filled with ballroom, jazz, and, of course, tap. The Act Two opener, “I Love a Piano,” has become a big, crowd-rousing tap number. “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” is a ballroom number with emphasis on synchronized couple movement. “There’s a strong 1950s jazz style throughout the show from the music to the movement,” Hildebrand said.
Hildebrand knew dance was core to Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, so she and music director Marisa Callan brought in New York-based choreographer Travis Nesbitt to stage some of the numbers in the show. This marks Nesbitt’s sixth show he’s choreographed at Sterling.
Nesbitt said, “There has been an immense amount of progress through the seasons – particularly in the way the students fearlessly approach the material I give them now. My first couple of shows I could tell the students were extremely apprehensive about my choreography and the way I set a show. The cast of White Christmas hasn't doubted themselves for a second. They have worked incredibly hard and picked up the steps in record time. I'm very pleased and impressed.”
He continued, “The unique challenge in choreographing White Christmas is that, unlike most contemporary musicals, it’s a show within a show. Most of the musical numbers are meant to be viewed as a showcase, meaning the narrative stops when the music begins. The challenge is to make these production numbers interesting and exciting enough to pull the audience away from the story while still keeping them entertained. I really think the Sterling cast is accomplishing this.”
Nesbitt says his favorite number in the show is “Sisters.” “It’s probably the most iconic number - so fun. Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen are perfect in the movie, and we bring that same playfulness to the stage.”
One of the “sisters” is Sterling junior Rachel Thomson from Hutchinson who is playing Judy – the Vera Ellen role. She is also assistant choreographer/dance captain for the show. She said, “The students at Sterling College work incredibly hard to clean and perfect the numbers.”
Thomson continued, “There are vast differences in choreography between the last three musicals we’ve done: Newsies, Legally Blonde, and White Christmas. Newsies is a style of its own and we had such a blast learning this choreography. Legally Blonde was a mix of hip hop and musical theatre dance—which was also brand new for us. White Christmas is a style of dance that the majority of the cast has never done. The 1950’s style has been challenging but very rewarding for the cast. For example, I finished teaching the tap number ‘I Love a Piano’ tonight and the cast rejoiced with excitement. Working so hard on a number really pays off—especially with this show.”
Tickets for the Sterling College Music Theatre production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” are $15 for adults and $5 for students and are currently available online at www.sterling.edu/arts or by calling (620) 204-0708. Tickets will also be available at the door beginning 30 minutes before each performance. The production will be seen at Culbertson Auditorium on the Sterling College campus.
Sterling College is a Christ-centered, four-year college located in Sterling, Kansas, with a mission to develop creative and thoughtful leaders who understand a maturing Christian faith. For more information, visit www.sterling.edu.