BWW Interview: Kerry Conte on WHITE CHRISTMAS Tour
BroadwayWorld San Francisco spoke with Kerry Conte, who plays Betty Haynes in the national tour of White Christmas. The musical comes to San Francisco December 14-24. Kerry tells us about the science behind Irving Berlin's music, working with Lorna Luft, and becoming a part of the White Christmas family. Read the full interview below.
What is your own history with White Christmas - both the film and the show?
I, of course, grew up watching White Christmas every year, and I acted out with my brother and made him play along. I first saw the stage production in 2006 at the MUNY. It's my second year with the production, but I've always wanted to do it. I love it so much.
Returning to the role, do you have to refresh yourself on the material? What is it like to jump into a show with such a short, specific time frame?
Last year, we only had about 10 days of rehearsal, which seems crazy, but everyone had been doing it for years and years. I really had to prepare. I knew the movie so much that I did really need to watch the movie again. I was able to bring a little of myself into it and also have a little bit of Rosemary Clooney, because I know that's what people really want to see.
How do you step into a role created by someone as iconic as Rosemary Clooney?
It really is iconic, and she's one of the people who influenced who I am today. I really just kind of look at the script, and I look at myself, and I took everything I could from myself, and I brought it into the character, and then, you know, I have a little bit of Rosemary Clooney. You can't help but hear her voice in your mind. But I think I've really made it my own.
How similar is the show to the film?
It's all the same story line, but also what I think is really great about the show is that they've added so many more big musical numbers. They're taken these songs from the Irving Berlin songbook like "Blue Skies" and "I Love a Piano" and they've made them into these huge Broadway extravaganza numbers. I think that's really fun for people to see because they know all these songs, and now they're seeing them in a different light.
The show features these two show biz buddies putting on a musical of sorts to honor this veteran commander of theirs from the war. So there's a variety in costumes and design there to create that show within a show. Can you talk about the creative elements of this production?
We've been really luck to be using the original costumes. Mine, I think, were in the Broadway production. It really looks beautiful. I don't do too much of the dancing. I'm the singing role. But I've watched these dancers, learning and sweating their hearts out every night, and they're really amazing.
Do you have a favorite song or moment in the musical?
I have two. One is when I'm off stage watching everyone. I love watching "I Love a Piano." That's the number that Judy and Phil do with the ensemble. It's a huge dance number, the opener of Act 2. That's one of my favorite moments, just watching them off stage. My other favorite moment is when it starts to snow, not to giving anything away.
She is really amazing. I had only heard about her before, and she is such her own person, but then she opens up her voice and you are taken back. Her voice is amazing. Also, she is the funniest person to work with. I love her so much.
There are several in the cast who have done the tour more than once before. This is your second year playing one of the two female leads. I imagine these actors have had the chance to perfect their roles. How does the mix of new and old talent affect the production?
My counterpart, Kelly Sheehan, who plays Judy, has been in it since the beginning. She knows so much more than I will ever know. It's great to get the history from her. It's also great to see the new people come in and have a totally different spin. It brings something so new and fresh to it. But I love playing opposite Kelly because she knows exactly what she's doing on stage.
One of the iconic songs of the show - blue fans and all - is Sisters. You and Kelly play siblings on stage, but I imagine the cast must form a family of its own, especially with so many returning every year.
Yes. And it's nice that we have that family atmosphere, too, because it's Christmas and a lot of us are away from our families. We have Thanksgiving together, and Christmas together. It kind of throws you together and makes something special - a special holiday treat.
Another Irving Berlin favorite, Holiday Inn, has a new stage adaptation on Broadway right now, and White Christmas has been a tradition for several years. What makes Berlin's music so timeless? What brings people back every year to see this show?
It's kind of the same thing as I've always wanted to watch the movie every year. It's something about those songs, the "White Christmas" song, somebody said it very scientifically, it makes your heart open up, the way that the chords progressed. I know that sounds very strange, but for some reason it makes me feel something. And I think a lot of Irving Berlin songs are like that. There's just something about it that makes it feel like Christmas.
You previously performed in the national tour of Mary Poppins and have also performed in shows like My Fair Lady and Hello Dolly. Do classics like these and more family-oriented shows have a special place for you?
They do. I grew up with them. I think that's really where I learned how to act and sing. I am that style, and I love that period of musicals. And I love the way it makes people feel, too. When people come to see the show, it doesn't matter what age they are, it makes them feel happy and brings them to a happier time. I just love the audience interaction with these types of musicals. People will come after and say, "I remember seeing this for the first time in the movie theatres." That used to happen to me all the time with Mary Poppins.
Many who see the show will not have seen a reAl White Christmas. What does that final reveal add to the show?
It's so funny. You look out in the audience and you see people grabbing for the snow. It's children, but it's also adults. I think everyone hopes for a white Christmas. But, of course, in some cities that's just now possible. It brings them a white Christmas without having to shovel any snow.
Have you experienced a real-life White Christmas?
I'm from upstate New York, from Albany, so we have white Christmas all the time. We're very lucky.
Do you have a favorite Christmas memory or tradition?
One of my favorite things is that every year we would have this cookie baking thing. All these different families would get together and we would bake cookies the entire day. We'd come away with boxes and boxes of cookies. That was my big Christmas thing, growing up.
What are you dreaming of this holiday season?
I'm dreaming of my family being together. My mom and my brother and his girlfriend are coming to San Francisco, and my aunt is in Palo Alto, so we kind of will have our family together.
San Francisco certainly is a great place to enjoy the holiday spirit. I saw the tour of White Christmas in San Francisco when I was much younger.
One of the original cities was San Francisco. We're excited to be back.
Photo Credit: JEREMY DANIEL