Triple threat performer David Engel needs no introduction. He is one of the top 5 musical stars on local stages and has won multiple Ovation Awards. He is currently preparing to open White Christmas for two weeks at Musical Theatre West (MTW) Saturday December 2. In our chat he tells us about the show and why MTW is so important to him.
How many times have you done this role? What attracts you to it?
This is my sixth time performing White Christmas. 10 years ago I toured with the show playing Phil, the more comedic dancing role that Danny Kaye played in the classic 1954 film. Since then I have played Bob, the more romantic crooning role that Bing Crosby made famous. I must say that playing Phil is a lot more fun, but playing Bob is way easier. The production does take advantage of my dancing skills (because I can), but my costar playing Phil is the one who is really out there working up a sweat. The role of Bob is much less active, and this being my 5th time playing him, it's like putting on an old pair of comfy slippers. A pair of Sparkley, Glittery, Holiday Slippers!
Is the stage show by your standards better than the film White Christmas? If so, how?
Them are fightin' words to say that the stage production is better than the film version. The original film is an annual favorite and is just about as charming as you can get. And you just can't beat Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen. So we don't even try. None of us are doing an impression, although I do tip my hat a bit to Bing when singing the title song. I kind of scoop and give it a little Bing-like lilt to give the audience the comfort of hearing the song the way if was introduced by Bing himself. The film is actually quite an intimate little film. It's all about the relationships of the core four and the General and Martha (Dean Jagger and Mary Wickes).The stage version opens it up with huge productions numbers to give the audience a spectacular Christmas-y experience.
The only thing about this film that says Christmas is that it opens on Christmas Eve 1944, and ends on Christmas Eve 1954. The stage version utilizes more of the great Irving Berlin catalogue of Christmas songs like "Happy Holidays" and "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm". Then we have retained "Snow" from the original film version of course.The stage version gives the audience everything they want from the film, and then goes way beyond it.
Who is sharing the stage with you?
Well that's funny. My immediate costars are the fabulous Jeffrey Scott Parsons, Rebbeca Johnson, and Tro Shaw. But you may lose us in the crowd. It's a whopping 29-person cast, THEN a 22-person orchestra live onstage in big band style with Dennis Castillano at the baton. The stage is bursting with talent and energy. 52 of us at a time.
What is the message of White Christmas? Is it peace on earth? Boy, do we need that now.
White Christmas does exactly what it sets out to do. It's an escape from all the craziness outside, and brings everyone together in one place to put you right in the holiday spirit. It has everything to make you leave the theatre humming all the familiar beautiful Irving Berlin tunes, and has all the heart to lift your spirits and put you right in the Christmas mood. It's also a valentine to our fighting men and women who served and continue to serve for our freedom. It is everything you could possibly want it to be.
What is different about this production? Any unusual choreography or staging?
I think the real star of the show are the glorious Irving Berlin tunes played by a live onstage orchestra, and the dazzling production numbers with original choreography by Lisa Hopkins, all performed by a crazy talented energetic cast. I think the concept for this production by director Todd Nielson is pretty brilliant. Having the orchestra onstage brings the show to life far greater than if they were buried in the pit.There are enough set pieces to completely transport the audience to the location without having a literal full scale inn or nightclub on stage.Then it has all the colorful costumes and stunning lighting to satisfy everyone's eyes, and it just may or may not actually snow on the audience!
What else do you want to say about the show?
The book to the show is as light as air, and any conflict could be explained away with a single word. But then there wouldn't be a show. Don't ask it to make perfect sense, just go with the flow and you will be completely charmed. It is constructed in the style of a good old fashioned Broadway or movie musical...Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy sings song and get girl back. It's not going to challenge your intelligence if that is what you are looking for. But if you want an escape and to just be moved and entertained and put in the holiday spirit, then come and escape at the Carpenter Center.
What's your next project?
Funny you should ask. At the end of every show, I usually have a whole itinerary of shows lined up. As of now, I have absolutely nothing following White Christmas. Intentionally. My agent and myself are going to focus on me getting more large scale production work on Broadway or on tour. That plan starts on January 1st. I am going to New York for a chunk of time and start auditioning for new upcoming Broadway shows. It's a bit scary heading into the new year with nothing lined up, but I have always been incredibly lucky and blessed to have continuous work over the past four decades. I am hoping and trusting that my luck will hold out on this next adventure.
MTW is close to your heart, isn't it? Why?
White Christmas plays December 1 through December 10 only at MTW. For tix, go to their website whose link is listed below: