When Lucia Stetson was growing up, the magic and music of the well-known holiday film “White Christmas” always mesmerized her.
And now Stetson will join 28 other local performers who will take the stage as the nonprofit Matthews Playhouse of the Performing Arts presents the musical theater adaptation of the beloved classic. Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for students and seniors and $10 for children ages 10 and younger.
“The ‘White Christmas’ movie has been a longstanding favorite holiday movie since I was a young child,” Stetson said. “I’ve been singing the songs, reliving those memories, since I was 6 years old, watching it with my parents around the holidays.”
The show opens this Friday, Nov. 30, with an 8 p.m. performance and runs through Dec. 17, with 10 additional performances scheduled. Proceeds from the 7 p.m. performance on Dec. 13, open to the public, will benefit the nonprofit Matthews Historical Foundation and the Matthews Women’s Club Service League.
Matthews Playhouse veteran Ron Chisholm, who recently directed “Nunsense,” has taken the reins for “White Christmas.” Chisholm, who says he was “talked into the challenge” of directing the show, is excited about bringing the classic to life.
“It’s a great story. It’s a great show,” he said. “It incorporates all styles of dance … everything from tap to partnering, swing dancing. It’s very presentational.”
The show follows the storyline of the film closely. Two World War II Army veterans, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, have a successful song-and-dance act following the war. Romance is in the air as the two men follow a duo of singing sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, as they travel to perform a Christmas show at a Vermont lodge, which just happens to be owned by the men’s former commander.
Stetson plays the role of Betty, a character she’s identified with throughout the years.
“I jumped at the opportunity to play Betty, who is screen siren trapped in a more conservative older sister role,” she said. “I’ve just, for years and years, always wanted to take on the famous Rosemary Clooney role.
“When it begins, (Betty) is very leery of love or falling in love. She sings a song about love and the weather, of how love can be sunny or it can rain on you … she’s been burned a couple of times by men, and is a little leery to jump out there and fall in love again. I certainly felt that way before I met my charming husband.”
The stage adaptation features the songs from the film plus a handful of new tunes. Chisholm said the show has the most production numbers – musical acts featuring the entire cast – of any show Matthews Playhouse has hosted, seven total, when the average show has three or four.
“The flow of the show, the transition from scene to scene, is very fast,” Chisholm said. “Something is constantly happening. We’re not sitting in the black, waiting for something to happen. The quality of the presentation … the vastness of the show is what’s so unique.”
In addition to the music, choreography – particularly tap dancing – also has been a challenge, Chisholm said, adding that of the 16 people in the tap-dance number, only five or six have real prior tap-dancing experience.
“It’s my favorite, but also the most challenging (part of the show),” he said. “When you tap, you’re learning percussion. You’re learning to play drums with your feet.”
But the expanse of the show isn’t limited to song and dance. The production also features more than 150 costumes and 10 scene changes.
Despite the challenges, Chisholm said everyone involved is eager for the community to experience this feel-good holiday story.
“This has been on (Matthews Playhouse artistic director) June Bayless’s bucket list since they made the movie into a stage show. It’s taken years of trying to get the rights to it at (the) community theater level, but it finally came through,” he said. “There’s comedic stuff, a wide array of musical songs that are incredible Irving Berlin tunes. It’s very entertaining, old-style musical theater.”
“They can expect to see a real classic Broadway show … this is a real throwback to the 1950s,” she said. “It’s going to be a really nice family piece to bring to the stage.”
For tickets or more information, visit www.matthewsplayhouse.com or call 704-846-8343.