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'White Christmas' opens this weekend

Photos by Marie Nitke/FOCUS In the leading roles are, left to right: Rachel Nelson, Christian Bueng, Olivia Nelson and Mark Murphy.1 / 2
'Army buddies' sing a number in "White Christmas."2 / 2

It's going to be a "White Christmas" in Perham.

This year's community musical, based on the classic movie of the same name, features the largest cast ever assembled by Director Kevin Kosiak, plus elaborate sets and costumes, and a song in every scene.

Kosiak calls the production, "a Christmas present to the community."

"It's a really, really hard show," he said, due to the difficulty of the 1940s and '50s jazz music and the challenge that comes just from coordinating a show of this caliber. There are also a lot of dance numbers, he added, and the jazz music "doesn't always lend itself to traditional dance."

Yet the music, by famous composer Irving Berlin, is also Kosiak's favorite thing about the show. Ever since "White Christmas" first entered his radar years ago, he said, "I've loved the story, loved the script, loved the music."

Many people are familiar with the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, which has become a Christmas season classic with its lavish musical numbers, humor and romantic storyline. The stage adaptation of that movie first premiered in 2004, and hit Broadway in 2008.

Kosiak had considered bringing the production to the Perham stage in past years, but thought he finally had the right cast for it this year.

That cast includes Rachel and Olivia Nelson, real-life sisters who also play sisters on stage as Judy and Betty Haynes, the show's leading ladies.

Rachel, a senior, previously played a bride in last year's Perham High School musical, "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," and was in "The Sound of Music" before that.

Backstage during a rehearsal on Monday night, Rachel said this show's choreography and ensemble singing has been a challenge, but that things have been coming together, especially in recent days. She's happy to be playing Betty, her role of choice, because Betty's solo song, "Love, You Didn't Do Right By Me," is her favorite number in the show.

Rachel's younger sister, Olivia, a sophomore, plays Judy, the spunky younger sister of Betty. Like her sister, Olivia was also happy to win her part. She's seen the movie many times, and was hoping to get the chance to play Judy.

"I'm kind of nervous, but also really excited at the same time," she said.

Mark Murphy, a senior, plays her funny-guy love interest. He admitted to being a little nervous, too - there were still a few dance steps he needed to get down as of Monday - but said otherwise he's comfortable in his role. While his character, Phil, is "more of a player than I am" with the ladies, he can relate to Phil's jokester personality.

The other leading male character, Bob, is described as "more serious and romantic" than Phil by sophomore Christian Bueng, who plays Bob in this production.

"I love it," he said of being in the show. His favorite part? "The duet and passionate kiss with Betty. That scene is amazing. It'll bring tears to the masses."

Set in Vermont at the end of World War II, "White Christmas" follows the story of Army buddies and performers Bob and Phil as they become professionally and romantically entangled with the Haynes sisters.

The Perham business community has tried something new with this production, embracing the "White Christmas" theme and turning it into a dual promotion - with downtown businesses cross-marketing the musical with their own holiday deals. Store owners will be dressing up in era-appropriate outfits on the two Saturdays of the show, creating the feel of an old-fashioned Christmas, from Main Street to Fifth Street.

Director Kosiak has tried something new with this production, as well, beefing up the cast by turning the high school's choir students into the chorus for the musical. This has helped to create a robust cast of more than 50 students.

One of those, Lily Lorenson, is just 10 years old. Playing Susan Waverly, the granddaughter of Bob and Phil's old Army general, she gets to sing a solo, and she said she likes that. Far from being nervous, the young actress said she's excited to play a principal role. She's acted in local productions before, and enjoys it.

"I like it because I feel free," she said of being on stage. "I'm a free spirit."

The cast of "White Christmas" has been rehearsing since mid-October, with set design and construction beginning a full month sooner than that.

Bonnie Tweeton is in charge of set design. Choreography has been led by Paul Mathieu. There will be a full orchestra, made up of local community members.

"White Christmas" will start this Saturday, Dec. 8 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. It will run again the following weekend, with 7:30 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14 and 15, and another 2 p.m. matinee that Sunday, Dec. 16. All shows will be at the Perham High School Auditorium.