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'White Christmas' to bring Irving Berlin's holiday music to the Eccles

Actress Kerry Conte always had an opinion about which movie her family should watch on Christmas Eve when she was growing up.

“I always picked ‘White Christmas,’ and I would make my brother play all the parts with me,” said Conte, who plays Betty Haynes in the national touring musical production of “White Christmas, in an email to the Deseret News. “So you could say I've been preparing for this (role) my entire life.”

Conte and the rest of the “White Christmas” cast are set to bring the holiday classic and Irving Berlin’s well-known songs to the stage of the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City Dec. 6-11.

Based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, “White Christmas” the musical tells the story of a two friends, Bob and Phil, in song-and-dance duo who go to a Vermont inn during the holidays and fall in love with a sister act, Betty and Judy, according to the touring production’s website. In addition to romancing and performing toe-tapping numbers, Bob and Phil also find an opportunity to help their former commander from the war.

“It really brings you back to the true meaning of Christmas,” Conte said. “Bob and Phil see someone in need and do everything they can to help. It's such a pure and practical decision. They don't think twice. It's a heartwarming story.”

Conte highlighted “the huge Broadway dance numbers and the immortal songs of Irving Berlin” as primary reasons why the story has become a holiday classic. While the musical generally follows the plot of the film, Conte said the story “is a little more fleshed out” and includes a few more Berlin songs for the stage, creating a production she believes appeals to audiences all ages.

“I have seen children dancing along in the aisles and grandparents unable to contain their excitement,” she said. “No audience member is left behind here.”

Betty, Conte’s character, was originally played in the film by singer Rosemary Clooney, who was known for hits such as “Come On-a My House,” “Hey There” and “Tenderly,” and Conte said she has drawn inspiration from Clooney in how she approaches the role.

“I cannot help but hear Rosemary Clooney in my head when I sing these glorious songs,” Conte said. “I have been able to bring a lot of myself to the character while still paying homage to the great Rosemary Clooney.”

In addition to the stop in Salt Lake City, the national tour of “White Christmas” will also visit San Francisco and Sacramento by the end of the year. But what Conte said she is looking forward to most is having her family visit her during the holidays and see her perform one of their family’s favorite stories onstage.

“I guess the only difference is that we won't be in our PJs,” she said.

Content advisory: “White Christmas” doesn’t contain any violence, objectionable language or sexual content but is recommended for ages 8 and up, according to artsaltlake.org.

If you go …

What: Broadway at the Eccles presents Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"

When: Dec. 6-11, times vary

Where: Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main, Salt Lake City

How much: $40-$90

Phone: 801-355-2787

Web: artsaltlake.org