Don’t worry about any radical new approach to “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” which reopens the Crown Uptown Theatre with new owners after an abrupt closing last summer.
“Everybody knows the Irving Berlin music,” says Matthew Rumsey, artistic director for the new theater and director for this show. “It’s a very warm, toe-tapping show with great color and great costumes. There’s no reason to mess with any of that.
“Everybody loves the show because you don’t see flashy numbers like that anymore. This is definitely one where you don’t want to scale anything back,” Rumsey says. “We’re here for music theater. Our goal is to present the full theatrical experience.”
The show is a stage version of the beloved 1954 movie about two song-and-dance men (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) just out of the Army after World War II who team with a sister act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to put on a benefit show to save a Vermont ski lodge their old commanding officer bought to support him in retirement. Along the way, they all manage to find true love despite humorous complications.
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Playing the song-and-dance men – Bob and Phil – are Nick Madson and Ross McCorkell. Playing the sisters – Betty and Judy – are Trish Epperson and Michelle Rogers. Mark Clark is the general facing financial disaster, Paula Makar is his innkeeper and receptionist who is often mistaken – to her horror – for his wife, and Faith Northcutt is his 12-year-old granddaughter.
The 13-piece pit orchestra is conducted by Jesse Warkentin, with choreography by GiGi Gans. Set is by Gregory Crane, costumes by Joni Simonsen, lighting by Dan Harmon and sound design by Kirk Longhofer.
Musical numbers, some of which were not in the original movie but are Berlin classics that were imported to flesh out the story, include “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” and the title tune, which won the Oscar as best song of 1942 in the predecessor movie, “Holiday Inn.”
Epperson, making her Crown Uptown debut as the thoughtful, perhaps overprotective sister Betty, loves cutting-edge Broadway. But she says she is “very geared to the Golden Age of musical theater” because of her voice.
“Many of the newer shows are for pop voices. I’m a girl with an ingenue soprano that fits the classics,” says Epperson, a Virginia native and a May graduate of Shenandoah Conservatory. She recently starred as Magnolia in “Show Boat” and – her first dream role – Maria in “West Side Story.” Her next dream role, she says, is Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady.”
Epperson jokes that she’s the “oddball” in her family because she doesn’t come from a musical or performing background.
“I’m the only one in my family. I started singing in public at age 6. I was the weird kid who told my mom at 7 that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and my parents have been very supportive. Even before I started Shenandoah Conservatory, I performed in five of six shows in summer stock. I’m excited to be out on the road.”
Madson is making a return to the Crown as Bob, the leading partner of the song-and-dance act. A Colorado Springs native who studied theater at Oklahoma City University, he got his professional break at age 17 in the chorus of “42nd Street” in Denver.
“It was my first time on a big stage outside of school with a real orchestra. When I realized I was being paid to do something I love, there was no turning back,” Madson says. Among his favorite roles are Che in “Evita,” Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast” and Jerry in “The Full Monty.” He also has performed with pop star Christina Aguilera and veteran hoofer Donald O’Connor, as well as Broadway stars (and Music Theatre of Wichita alums) Kelli O’Hara and Kristin Chenoweth.
His first stint at the Crown was as Kenickie in “Grease” in 2005. He returned for the Christmas revue two years ago. Last year, he played Phil, the other half of the song-and-dance act in “White Christmas,” for another theater.
“Phil has the younger, spicier dance steps and a lot of tap like I like to do. But every now and then, I’d think, gosh, I wish I had Bob’s songs and those intimate romantic moments,” Madson says. “Bob is a little more mature. He’s not the ladies man that Phil is. When he meets Betty, he knows he’s ready to settle down.”
The dilemma, Madson laments, is that he can’t do both roles at the same time.