Dreaming Of White Christmas The Musical
The latest stage adaptation of the classic 1954 movie ushers in the holiday season
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AT the moment Matt Crowle got the official word that he would handle the choreography for White Christmas The Musical, based on the Irving Berlin classic movie, he was aware of the challenges that faced him, but he couldn’t wait to put his signature on a production that has been a holiday favorite for more than 50 years.
A tap dancer since childhood and associated with theater for more than 30 years, Crowle is displaying his unique touch in the popular musical that runs through January 3 at Drury Lane Theatre. “In a lot of productions that go from movies to stage, the trap is to try and recreate as much as you can from the movie. The challenge is to try and stay close to the original piece and give the audience those iconic moments that they remember,” Crowle says. “But I also have to keep in mind that it’s important to add a little extra touch and style that sort of updates it and keeps it fresh.”
In an effort to do just that, the 2015 Jeff Award winner for best actor in a supporting role (A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum) spent months, he says, going back and forth between watching the movie and listening to the music at the dance studio, all with the focus that some people will be seeing the musical for the first time. The challenge for him is to remain true to the original production while offering a sense and style of freshness and a nuance that is distinctive. That has not gone unnoticed, with one of the first endorsements coming from cast member Sean Allan Krill, who plays lead character Bob Wallace. “It [the show] has amazing dancing, and Matt Crowle is doing some fantastic stuff.”
The movie presentation of White Christmas, described as the perfect story of looking for love and acceptance, starred Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney. Like the movie version, the stage adaptation focuses on two successful song-and-dance men who fall in love with a pair of attractive sisters while trying to save the declining Vermont inn owned by their former commanding general. At the center of the show is Berlin’s incredible score, which features timeless tunes such as "Blue Skies," "Sisters," “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep),” "I Love a Piano" and the best-selling single of all time, "White Christmas."
“I think having been an actor and dancer for 30 years has informed me a lot about what feels right on stage. So I always keep that in mind when I'm choreographing. Having made this transition from both sides of the table, I feel it has challenged me and stepped up my game as an actor and choreographer."
–– Matt Crowle
For Crowle, who says he has been dancing to Berlin’s music since childhood, his skill set is tailor-made for a production that includes tap dancing, ’50s jazz numbers and ballroom routines, giving him an opportunity to express himself through the choreography. “Oh, this was like playing in a sandbox. There’s just all this beautiful music and the arrangements for the show are out of this world. There’s a number in the show, “Blue Skies,” and it’s a very smoky, jazzy piece that’s a six-minute number of true theater jazz,” says Crowle, who recently starred as Bert in Mary Poppins at the Paramount Theatre and previously was a member of the national tour of Doctor Dolittle, which was directed by Tommy Tune. “You don’t always get to put your mark on something for that long.”
Similarly, White Christmas includes another marathon piece that’s all tap, going from what Crowle calls “this Gene Kelly/Judy Garland moment” to the feeling of a Busby Berkeley number that requires the dancers to display their endurance and incredible skills in an extended tap dance routine, which has become an audience favorite and one of the standout moments in the show.
Matt Crowle (also cast as stage manager Mike Nulty) is an accomplished tap dancer and teacher who has been dancing to Irving Berlin tunes for most of his life. His choreography included the routine by Matt Raftery and Erica Stephan.
While the dance routines require most of Crowle’s attention, in this show, for only the second time in his career, the multitalented entertainer is doing double duty as choreographer and actor, this time also cast in the role as Mike Nulty, a frantic, Don Knotts-type nervous stage manager who has only five days to get the show up and running. Previously, he choreographed Singing in the Rain at Drury Lane and also played the Donald O’Connor role. For him, there’s even more dancing to come next year when the actor/choreographer/dancer steps into the Dick Van Dyke role in the Drury Lane production of Bye Bye Birdie in January.
For now, though, it’s all about White Christmas as Crowle works to attach his distinctive style to a classic. “What I try to do first when putting together the dance steps is to listen to the music and orchestration and make sure that these are not just stock steps. I try to make everything brand new,” says the Michigan native who worked for six years in New York before making a career move to Chicago in 2009. “My style is to always try to sew the choreography to the orchestration so that everything moves as one. I try not to get too clever. You can’t put everything into every dance. Sometimes too much is just too much––like putting a hat on a hat. Keep it simple but very exciting and fun, and always keep in mind that the music comes first.”
Theatergoers agree that––with an impressive collection of Irving Berlin standards and all-time favorites––in White Christmas The Musical, the music really is the star.
Photography by Brett Beiner
The talented and engaging cast in White Christmas The Musical sing the title tune in the Drury Lane Theatre production, running through January 3.
One of the production's more popular routines is an elaborate, six-minute tap-dance presentation.
For more information and tickets, go to www.drurylanetheatre.com.