Spending a 'White Christmas' in O.C.

Dreaming of a white Christmas in sunny Southern California?

To see snow really fall in Costa Mesa, just buy a ticket for one of the holiday season's hottest tickets: the Broadway musical version of Irving Berlin's "White Christmas" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.

The tale of two talented World War II Army buddies who make it big on Broadway, find their true loves, then help their former commander save a dilapidated New England inn has become an American classic.

The musical version of "White Christmas," which debuted in San Francisco in 2004, shares the 1954 Bing Crosby film's plot, but takes divergences in plot details and in musical numbers. Famous tunes like the title song and "Blue Skies" are incorporated into the musical, but several extravagant song-and-dance numbers were also added.

"I think people will be pleasantly surprised," said actress Ruth Williamson, who portrays inn concierge Martha Watson in the show. "It's quite beautiful and quite lavish, and I think Costa Mesa's going to enjoy it. We actually bring you snow!"

Having been in the show for several years, starting with its Broadway run, Williamson said one of its key challenges is keeping "White Christmas" fresh each night for each new audience.

"I have a little speech I say to myself each night," Williamson said. "I say, 'OK, I'm going to give it the best I've got, and I'm gonna try to tell the story the best I can, and serve the play. And whatever happens, I hope it's good enough.'

"And so far, so good."

Williamson's background is extremely diverse; in addition to a wide range of stage roles on and off Broadway, she has appeared in television shows ranging from "Monk" to "Star Trek: Enterprise" to "Hannah Montana," as well as a celebrated multiseason role on "Nip/Tuck." Her films include "Evan Almighty," "The Producers" and "Malcolm X."

When asked about her large volume of work, both onstage and onscreen, Williamson had a simple answer: "One thing at a time."

Williamson said she considers herself to be a hybrid stage and screen actress, but leans predominantly toward stage work.

"I love the immediacy of the response you get onstage," she said. "But I also really enjoy television. It's a different challenge, a different technique. I like variety."

Williamson said she primarily works as a character actor; in "White Christmas," her character Martha is a wisecracking concierge and former Broadway star who serves as the love interest for the commander in the show (a departure from the film version, in which there was no romantic tension between the two).

"I play a lot of rich ladies, too," she said. "I tend to play authoritative characters. I played a plastic surgery addict for four seasons of 'Nip/Tuck.' That was a wonderful experience."

Williamson said one of her favorite projects was the wildly successful revival of "Guys and Dolls" on Broadway with Nathan Lane.

"I thoroughly enjoyed that," she said, adding that it was especially thrilling to be a part of such a cultural phenomenon. She's also enjoyed roles a in play dealing with racism's effect on two children's friendship and as Dolly in "Hello, Dolly!" — which she said was one of the best times she's ever had.

In the future, Williamson is considering a role in another musical, as well as returning to auditioning for more film, television and voiceover work.

But for now, she's enjoying the relative respite of a prescribed life on the road, seeing new cities every week and getting to know her cast. The Los Angeles resident said she also will be pleased to spend December on her home turf while on tour.

"I'm not a kid anymore," she said. "I'm not going to lie — it is hard work. But I am still grateful for it, and I love the company; it's like a family to me. It's a lovely way to spend the holiday with good friends."

Williamson encouraged "White Christmas" fans to buy tickets early, as a sellout is expected.

"If you love the movie, come. If you hate the movie, come; it's different, and we don't try to 'be' the movie. It's a great way to get in the mood for the holidays, and it doesn't get any better than Irving Berlin."

If You Go

What: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas"

When: Tuesday to Jan. 1

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $20 and up

Information: (714) 755-0236 or scfta.org

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