The song is iconic. The movie is a classic. And now the stage production by the same name has become a tradition for audiences and cast alike. “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” will return to Iowa Tuesday with a limited engagement at Des Moines Civic Center.
The play is about two Army-time buddies — Bob Wallace (David Elder) and Phil Davis (Jeremy Benton) who sing and dance their way to fame and fortune after the war. Even with all their success, the two are still missing something. While auditioning a sister act of Judy Haynes (Kelly Sheehan) and Betty Haynes (Kerry Conte) sparks fly and the men may have just found what they are looking for. The four entertainers end up at a cozy Vermont inn where the fellas’ beloved leader General Waverly (Conrad John Schuck) is down on his luck. They decide to pitch in to help their beloved friend and along the way they sing, dance and fall in love.
“It’s a story about celebrating the holidays with family and friends and coming together to help someone in need. I don’t think that story ever gets old,” said Sheehan, who has been part of the seasonal production since 2005 including a run on Broadway and several touring companies. “It is relevant to any time, whether it is the ‘50s or 2019 or 2020 and beyond. This story is going to apply because it is about a community loving this man so much and coming together to help. It is a family story that is going to last and impact people for many years.”
The story has lasted for generations, first as the film, which was released in 1954 starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen and now as the stage production. Sheehan said the play is true to the silver screen version but adds a few new songs and the excitement of seeing a live production.
“This is a beautiful adaptation with a lot of the same information is there, favorite dance numbers and songs like ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Sisters’ and a few others, but we’ve added wonderful songs like ‘I Love A Piano,’” Sheehan said. “So for the movie lovers we did have some things had to give and take from the movie but it is definitely a familiar show and has the same story line and still just as touching. To me the movie is fantastic and a classic but something about seeing it live on stage is so fun, and to see the audience reaction is just really special.”
Along with hearing familiar tunes, audience members will see some familiar faces including actress Lorna Luft. Luft has been in a number of TV shows, live plays and has written several books. She also has a famous family tree. She is the daughter of Judy Garland and Sidney Luft, and sister of Liza Minnelli.
“(Lorna) is fantastic. We laugh so hard. She is such a professional who shows up 100 percent every time,” said Sheehan, when asked of working with Luft. ”She is just so much fun, and any chance I get to work with her I jump on. She is so fun to be around and her legacy is fantastic. To watch her on stage and be around her is a gift. I can’t say enough amazing things about her.”
Sheehan said the entire cast and crew are amazing and many have been in the show every year together creating a family of sorts for on the road.
“For some coming to the show and seeing it is a tradition,” she said. “For us, being together and having this time around the holidays with old friends has become our tradition. We are just like a family having been together for so long.”
Whether going with the family or attending the show with friends, Sheehan said audiences will love the dance and song numbers of this holiday classic live. Performances of the latest installment of the Willis Broadway Series are happening now through Sunday. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at DMPA.org, the Civic Center Ticket office or by calling 515-246-2300.
“We have such a great time every year traveling to different cities and meeting new people,” Sheehan said. “The cast has so much fun seeing the audiences after the show, filled with joy and ready for their holiday seasons it is pretty amazing. It’s a pretty great gig.”