Is there life beyond Dec. 25? In the world of legit, “Xmas” has a way of turning into a four-letter word come the New Year.
For example, “White Christmas” would appear to have everything going for a Broadway incarnation: money reviews from Frisco, a classic-movie pedigree, 17 Irving Berlin songs the audience goes in humming. So why isn’t it a slam-dunk for Broadway?
“We have to realize it is called ‘White Christmas,’ ” says producer Kevin McCollum. You know he’s thought a lot about the show’s potential market when he quickly adds, ” ‘Annie’ is all about Christmas. ‘She Loves Me’ and ‘Rent’ revolve around Christmas.”
Given a few more minutes, he might also have remembered the big holiday scenes in “Mame” and the current “Little Women.” “But those shows don’t have the word ‘Christmas’ in the title,” he says.
McCollum & co. conceived the “White Christmas” stage show as a holiday annual for regional theaters. While it might eventually play in Peoria, can “White Christmas” endure a year-round run on Broadway?
“There is interest on Broadway, but it is not on our immediate agenda,” McCollum says.
As holiday shows go, GrooveLily’s “Striking 12” couldn’t be further in tone and spirit from “White Christmas.” But in one respect, its creators are in full agreement with McCollum. A tuner about a Scrooge-like character who meets up with a Little Match Girl type just can’t stand the heat of summer.
“People tell us six to 12 weeks a year. Others say longer,” says GrooveLily’s Brendan Milburn. The pop trio looks to next fall for a commercial Off Broadway berth.
“Striking 12” recently extended to Jan. 8 at Theaterworks in Palo Alto, Calif. (Likewise, “White Christmas” added a week, to Jan. 1.)
But Milburn, who wrote “Striking 12” with Rachael Sheinkin and Valerie Vigoda, has his concerns about its shelf life beyond Dec. 25.
“For the first time, we’ll see what people think of the show in January,” he says. “Striking 12” previously played limited engagements at Gotham’s Symphony Space, San Diego’s Old Globe and Philly’s Prince Music Theater, where the three-person show had its world preem in November 2002.
Milburn goes out of his way to erase any trace of religion from “Striking 12.” “It’s not a Christmas show, but a wintery-theme show,” he says, adding that its creatives include two Jews and an agnostic.
According to Milburn, the PS Classics label releases the show’s cast album in March and has avoided any Christmas motif in its advertising or display. “They’re looking to keep it on the shelf year-round,” he says.
The Jewish Xmas show
Before the religious right calls Bill O’Reilly to complain, it should be noted at least one tuner in the pipeline has no fear of Christendom’s most sacred holiday. And wouldn’t you know? Just like the original holy day itself, “Jerry Christmas” is all about Jews.
” ‘Jerry Christmas’ is a real ‘Broadway musical’ musical, with a big star part and a lot of scenery and lots of characters,” says book writer Daniel Goldfarb. “I’ve written plays with three and four characters, but never a large-cast play. This is my chance.”
The author of “Modern Orthodox” met up with “The Wild Party” lyricist-composer Andrew Lippa at the 2002 Sundance retreat. Goldfarb had 25 pages of this play he didn’t much love: It focused on a Jewish comic who does a Christmas TV special despite his family’s objections. “So Andrew and I started on it from scratch,” Goldfarb says.
In the tuner version, set in 1962, the comic’s family resists being part of the Gentile enterprise. Act two is that TV show in real time.
The Araca Group has backed the project and looks to put on a February reading, pending director availability.
As part of their research, Goldfarb and Lippa looked at old tapes of Christmas specials hosted by Jerry Lewis and Judy Garland, among other Jews. “Some were strange,” says Goldfarb. “When Jerry Lewis told a joke and didn’t get a laugh, he’d say, ‘Now I know how Eichmann felt.'”
More daunting for them is that other legit taboo, Lippa says: “Everybody on the planet has advised us not to attempt an original book musical.”