By Erin Crowell
Old Town Playhouse director Phil Murphy grew up wanting to be Danny
Kaye after he watched the 1954 Paramount Film White Christmas.
Bing Crosby not so much, said Murphy. I didnt make much of a
dancer and Im not much of a comedian.
While Murphy wont be playing Danny Kayes character, he will be in
the directors chair when Northern Michigan is treated to the first
performance of Irving Berlins White Christmas, November 11-14,
18-21 and Nov. 26 & 27 at the Old Town Playhouse in Traverse City.
Even though its been over 50 years since the classic holiday movie
was made, White Christmas was made available to the stage for the
first time this spring. Murphy jumped at the opportunity.
Theres a lot of people who grew up with this (story), just like I
did, explained the 33-plus years OTP veteran. Were not always
compelled to do a holiday show, but this is one we just didnt want to
The play follows characters Bob Wallace (played by Phil Callighan) and
Phil Davis (Ed Blackburn) post-WWII Army privates who retire from the
armed services to pursue a song-and-dance career.
Along the way, they meet the sister act that is Betty (Maryscott
OConnor) and Judy (Sherry White) Haynes. Not wanting to miss an
opportunity, the men follow the Haynes sisters to Vermont where they
discover their old general, Henry Waverly (played by John Dew), is the
owner of the Columbia Inn, which has fallen on hard times due to a
not-so-white winter. So, the four performers make it their mission to
help restore the inn through good ol song and dance a performance
that will draw many peopleand lots of revenueto the struggling inn.
White Christmas is about old friends, new love and a passion for the
performing arts something that transcends the real folks involved
with the show.
One nice thing is that people will see some new faces on stage and
quite a few they havent seen in awhile, said Murphy.
Blackburn, who started performing in OTP shows in 1983, has returned
to the stage after a 20 year hiatus. His story parallels that of his
White Christmas character, Phil Blackburn met his wife, Lisa,
while the two were working on the OTP production of Cinderella.
We married, had two kids and just enjoyed life for awhile, said
Blackburn. Our kids are in high school now and are very involved with
theater at their school. One day they were going through all our old
production photos and asked us why we didnt do it anymore.
With Lisas return to the stage in the last two years, Ed was next up
for the challenge and decided on White Christmas for his return
performance, being a fan of the classic film, himself.
The part of Phil Davis is ideal, said Blackburn. Its been great
because performing is in our blood to sing, dance and act. I do the
same thing John Travolta does, except he gets paid more.
TIS THE SEASON
Another reason OTP decided on White Christmas Murphy said is because
of the communitys request for the theatre to offer more
Its an opportunity to do a crowd pleaser, a real family show. Most
actors here like working on the more challenging, adult-type stuffand
we try to keep it pretty lightso this is something different. Sort of
a Christmas card for the city from the playhouse.
So were any of the 26 cast members a little irked about rehearsing for
a Christmas play in September?
Not really, explained Murphy. When youre rehearsing for a play,
youre not thinking about the overall effect until later on in
production. Its actually just now starting to hit people that this is
pretty Christmas-y, with all the Christmas trees on stage and winter
While the storyline, characters and overall feel of White Christmas
will be just like its film predecessor, this production offers a few
more musical numbers, along with a few other elements.
One example is in the scene Snow, in the movie there are just four
of them singing about the snow. This time its a whole chorus, said
Murphy. Theres a lot of new that people will hear, along with all
Blackburn encouraged audience members to sing along to all the Irving
People will want to sing along to all the favorites like Sisters,
White Christmas and other Berlin songs like I love a piano, he
said. We want them to enjoy it as much as we are.
Directed by Phil Murphy, music direction under Joe Rice, vocal
direction by Carly McCall, with choreographers Liz Reincke and Judy
Stines, along with stage manager Denni Don Hunting, tickets to Irving
Berlins White Christmas are $23 for adults; $12 for children and $18
for groups. Performances will run Nov. 11-14, 18-21 and Nov. 26 & 27.
Curtain opens at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m. For more
information, visit oldtownplayhouse.com or call 231-947-2210.