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Curiocity: Q&A With Conrad John Schuck, Orpheum's General Waverly

We all have holiday traditions.

For some, it's baking cookies. For others, it's decorating the house. And for another group, it's watching the big game.

For me, it's watching Christmas movies. Every year I have to watch "White Christmas" on Christmas Eve.

I'm not quite sure when the tradition started exactly, but since high school I've watched the film every year on Dec. 24.

Irving Berlin's 1954 musical film tells the story of two army buddies-turned-Broadway-superstars who end up at a inn run by their former army general after following a pair of sisters they fancy to Vermont. The inn is facing financial challenges as unseasonably warm weather has left the New England ski destination without snow. So, to help their former general they use their Broadway connections to put on a grand Christmas show and raise money for the inn.

The musical version debuted in San Francisco in 2004.

Since then it toured in the United Kingdom in 2007, toured Broadway in 2008 – 2009 and has come back to the stage, and Minnesota, in 2014.

Conrad John Schuck, known for his roles in "The Love Boat," "Star Trek," "Annie," and, more recently, "Law and Order SVU" is taking the stage in The Orpheum's production of "White Christmas" as the General himself – Major General Waverly.

General Waverly in White Christmas
(credit: Hennepin Theatre Trust)

People are familiar with the film version of "White Christmas." How does the stage version maintain the integrity of the film? How is it different?

"White Christmas" is a film that has endured for over 50 years and is a seasonal favorite. Our stage production tells the same story with the same characters, but uses many more of Irving Berlin's wonderful songs. Also, unlike the movie, we have an impressive display of tap dancing and big production dance numbers!

What made you want to be involved with the Orpheum's production?

I became involved with "White Christmas" for a couple of reasons.

The first was because I was asked!

Secondly, the part of General Waverly was challenging to me. When we first meet him he is an impressive, intimidating soldier addressing his European troops on Christmas Eve, 1944. The next time we see him it is ten years later and he has become the owner of a winter resort in Pine Tree, Vt. He is still a commanding presence, but going through a difficult time with the resort. The challenge for me is to show the changes he goes through leading up to his last scene where he is revealed as a very thankful and very human man.

You've worked both onscreen and on stage, what do you like about performing on stage? How does it differ from acting onscreen?

In the 50 plus years that I have been acting, I have been lucky enough to work in all mediums.

The theater was and is my inspiration! I prefer it over the others because of the sense of event that each performance presents. It is live, it is in the moment and the feeling of being in front of an audience and sharing a story is very satisfying.

Trying to pick a favorite show is or performance is impossible! There are many that I remember fondly. As far as movies are concerned, I loved doing "M*A*S*H" with Robert Altman directing, but another movie called "Thieves Like Us" with Altman directing was my favorite.

As far as T.V. series work is concerned, playing Sgt. Enright on "McMillan And Wife" with Rock Hudson and Susan St. James is probably at the top of my list.

In previous years there has been audience involvement included at the end of the show. Can we expect the same from this production?

As far as audience involvement is concerned, audiences are welcome to join in singing "White Christmas" with the ensemble at the end of the show! They are also invited to join in with some dialogue at the end if they are so moved.

What is your favorite scene or song in the show?

My favorite song from "White Christmas" is called "How Deep Is The Ocean." It is a simple ballad with very simple and lovely lyrics! Beautiful!

Watching "White Christmas" is a holiday tradition for me. Do you have any holiday traditions of your own?

I don't really have any real family tradition[s]. These days it is all about my grandchildren and the joy in their faces. I love Christmas Eve services, and for many years would go to sing-along services of Handel's "Messiah."

Is there anything in particular you are looking forward to trying or seeing while you visit Minnesota?

I look forward to our week in Minneapolis. It is a wonderful theater town and audiences are great! The last time I was there was in one of the many "Annie" tours I have been fortunate enough to do, and audiences were large and very responsive.

As much as I love the Twin Cities area, the schedule of doing the show really doesn't allow us to see much. I [would] feel lucky to find myself at a good restaurant. I hope there is a matinee at the Guthrie that I could take in.

"White Christmas" is open now through Dec. 30 at the Orpheum Theater. Tickets range from $49 to $139. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit The Orpheum Theater online.


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