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FEATURE: The Ordway’s White Christmas and Vocal Teeth (April Fools)

Ann Michaels in a discarded promotional photo for the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts/5th Avenue Theatre coproduction of White Christmas. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Last November, while Minnesota was still flirting with fall and winter weather, the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts was going full-speed ahead with plans for an innovative new staging of the classic musical White Christmas. This discarded production design, which was obtained by the Twin Cities Arts Reader, adapted the classic Bing Crosby movie with a few updates to play for a modern audience – like velociraptors.

Talking Broadway’s David-Edward Hughes called Carrie Robbins’ costumes and dinosaur animatronics “period perfection.” According to Ordway insiders, one of the challenges in mounting this update of White Christmas at the Ordway was that prop designer Rick Polonek had to manufacture more than 300 sheets of sugar glass for a climactic tap-dance battle between Dieter Bierbrauer (right) and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (center; voice by Andy Torka) on the surface of a frozen lake. Photo by Rich Ryan.

“I don’t know where anyone would get the impression that this was under consideration,” said Ordway Vice President of Programming James Rocco. “We certainly didn’t consider velociraptors.”

The addition of dinosaurs and characters running for their lives to classic musical numbers like “Sisters” and “Blue Skies” was intended to take audiences (and a few unlucky chorus members slated to be devoured) by storm. The whole show was to be anchored by a new jungle set designed by Anna Louizos of Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre.

Despite developing extensive designs and building animatronics, creative staff associated with the production have steadfastly denied that dinosaur-related elements were even under consideration. “Where do people get ideas like this?” said Louizos in a November interview. “While it’s true that the visual aesthetic is sumptuous, my design is not jungle sumptuous or even jungle-related at all.”

Many versions exist of White Christmas, a beloved classic from which several Irving Berlin hits have been added and removed over the years. Many of the song lyrics, which contained 1950s slang, have been updated to fit the new setting. For example, the song “Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun” – a song originally writen for 1949’s Miss Liberty – was to be added to the musical and updated as “Fleeing From the Raptors Can Be Fun,” in keeping with contemporary audiences’ taste.

“What?” said the Ordway’s Public Relations Manager Jessica Petrie on the changes. “We did not do that. I categorically deny that we even considered updated any of the song lyrics like that. Or that there was a tap-dancing Tyrannosaurus Rex at the top of Act II. Don’t believe everything that you read on the Internet.”

The Star Tribunes Graydon Royce called Ann Michaels performance in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres Mary Poppins "practically perfect." Her White Christmas castmates call her raptor-wrestling scene "veritably vicious."
The Star Tribune’s Graydon Royce called Ann Michaels’ performance in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres’ Mary Poppins “practically perfect.” Her White Christmas castmates called her cut raptor-wrestling scene “veritably vicious.”

White Christmas starred Dieter Bierbrauer as Bob Wallace, Ann Michels as Betty Haynes, Brian Sostek as Phil Davis and Jenny Piersol as Judy Haynes. Also featured were James Detmar as General Waverly, Natalie Tran and Valerie Wick alternating in the role of Susan Waverly, and Thomasina Petrus as Martha Watson.

Describing the production in November, while the staff were reportedly battling troublesome dinosaur-control waldos for a tense scene, Rocco said, “White Christmas is one of the most requested shows in the history of the Ordway, and we’re so excited to bring our own production to St. Paul this December. The holiday season is about being with the ones you love and coming together as a community, and that’s exactly what this show is about.”

White Christmas played Dec. 8-31 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.

Basil Considine