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Civic Theatre finally gets chance to stage Bing-inspired play

Thu., Nov. 18, 2010, midnight

Three different entities are titled “White Christmas”:

• The classic Bing Crosby song.

• The 1954 movie musical starring Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

• The high-energy stage version, which premiered in 2004 and hit Broadway in 2008.

The third entity is the one we’re focused on today, since – at long last – it premieres regionally on the Spokane Civic Theatre stage Friday.

Those familiar with the movie classic know what to expect. It’s about two old Army buddies, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, who form a world-famous musical-comedy act. They put on a show at a quaint Vermont ski inn – going bankrupt because of lack of snow – as a way to help out their old commanding officer, who owns it.

Will their days be merry and bright? Not to give anything away, but Christmas will turn a certain satisfactory color.

The stage version is similar, and even more loaded with classic Irving Berlin songs. You’ll hear “Blue Skies,” “Sisters” and “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” to name only three out of 17.

And, of course, you’ll hear the title song, the best-selling Christmas song of all time.

“White Christmas” is a natural choice in Crosby’s hometown, which is why the Civic has been trying to obtain the rights to this show for several years. Up until now, it has been available mainly to larger Equity (union) companies and big regional theaters.

Now that the Civic has landed it, director Troy Nickerson has discovered what a huge undertaking it is.

“It’s one of the biggest shows I’ve ever done,” said Nickerson. “The production numbers, the dance numbers, the sets and the costumes. It’s daunting.”

It has sets ranging from Times Square to a quaint Vermont inn. Snow must fall on command.

And the costumes? The Crosby character alone has 17 costume changes. The dancers in the chorus have 12 or 13 costume changes apiece.

No wonder one recent tech rehearsal went “close to 15 hours,” Nickerson said.

The 26-person cast includes Cameron Lewis as Phil Davis (Kaye’s role in the movie) and Andrea Dawson as Betty Haynes (Clooney’s part).

Kevin Partridge gets the plum part of Wallace, the Crosby role.

In 2000, Partridge expertly played another iconic Christmas role for the Civic: George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He returns to the Civic stage after a long absence.

“He’s coming from a good place,” said Nickerson. “He’s not worried about being Bing Crosby. He’s just trying to be true to the character.”

Other major roles are filled by Kathie Doyle-Lipe, Siri Hafso and Tony Caprile.

By the way, if you find yourself in a Christmas trivia contest, you might want to remember that the song “White Christmas” did not premiere in the movie.

It came out of 1942’s “Holiday Inn,” a previous Bing Crosby movie. The song was already a well-loved Christmas classic by 1954.



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