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PCPA’s ‘White Christmas’ Comes Early

The music and lyrics are unrivaled in Irving Berlin's White Christmas, which opens Thursday.

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Colum Parke Morgan, left, Elizabeth Stuart, Natasha Harris and Michael Jenkinson star in PCPA TheaterFest’s White Christmas, opening Thursday at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria. (Luis Escobar Photography Studio photo)

For the holidays, PCPA TheaterFest is serving up a special treat: Irving Berlin‘s White Christmas, based on the 1954 Paramount Pictures film of the same name, written by Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, with music and lyrics by Berlin, and a new book by David Ives and Paul Blake.

The show opens Thursday and runs through Dec. 21 at PCPA’s Marian Theatre in Santa Maria.

The production is directed and choreographed by Valerie Rachelle, with additional choreography by Michael Jenkinson and Eric Hoit and musical direction by Callum Morris. Andrew Layton designed the sets, Frederick Deeben the costumes, Angeline Summers-Marvel the lighting and Matt Carpenter the sound.

White Christmas stars Colum Parke Morgan, Michael Jenkinson, Elizabeth Stuart, Kitty Balay Genge, Peter Hadres, Vanessa Ballam, Nina Brissey, Andrew Philpot, Corey Jones, Natasha Harris, Kelly Barrett and Alejandro McDonald-Villarreal.

Berlin was staying at the Biltmore Arizona in 1940 and was sunbathing by the pool when the idea for his song “White Christmas” came to him. Bing Crosby introduced it to the world on Christmas Day 1941 — 18 days after Pearl Harbor — in the Kraft Music Hall. In the new year, the song was featured in a great musical film, Holiday Inn, which teamed Crosby and Fred Astaire as partners and rivals. The song won an Academy Award — the only Oscar Berlin ever won, despite seven nominations.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, “White Christmas” — as recorded by Crosby, John Scott Trotter’s orchestra and the Ken Darby Singers — is the only single to top the singles charts in three separate years (1942, 1945 and 1946). It is also the all-time best-selling single in any music category.

Never one to waste good material, Berlin used the song again, performed again by Crosby, in the 1954 movie musical White Christmas, which paired Crosby with Danny Kaye and co-starred Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.

One day on the set, according to Crosby, Berlin was pacing nervously up and down, chain-smoking (he lived to be 101) and generally driving everybody nuts. “Relax, Irving,” George Clooney‘s Aunt Rosemary said. “It’s already a hit.”

The plot of White Christmas is not so much a plot as a formula: “A successful song-and-dance team become romantically involved with a sister act and team up to save the failing Vermont inn of their former commanding general.” (How many songs can you hang on that tree?)

This movie, the first filmed in VistaVision, was also a big hit for Berlin and Paramount Pictures. However, like another recent Broadway musical, Forty-Second Street, it was never on the live stage until modern admirers decided to turn it into a stage musical. The result? A thoroughly wonderful theatrical evening, with music and lyrics by one of the greatest songwriters who ever sat down at a piano.

For tickets and show times, click here or call PCPA’s Santa Maria box office at 805.922.8313.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.

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