Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Eastern Russia during 1888, was one of eight children. His family immigrated to NYC in 1893, and Berlin went on to become one of America’s most beloved composers and lyricists before dying in 1989 at the age 101. His works, many written between the two world wars, include “God Bless America” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business.”
Also “White Christmas,” which is featured in the musical titled “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” being performed through Sun, Dec. 11 at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Tonight is 99.9 KEZ TalkBack Thursday, so ticket holders who stay after the show can enjoy a talk back session with cast and crew members.
I enjoyed a conversation with cast member Shannon O’Bryan a while back. “I grew up watching Fred and Ginger,” she told me. “I love old musicals.” She’s now in her 7th year with “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” — performing the role of Judy Haynes in the show that follows fictional friends who unexpectedly find love while putting on a Christmas show at a quaint Vermont inn.
O’Bryan recalls the thrill of being cast in 2004 as the Judy Haynes understudy. “I was so excited,” she told me, “because I grew up watching the movie.” Other career memories are more chilling — like performing in “42nd Street” at the Bolshoi Theatre during Moscow’s tragic Nord-Ort theater seige in 2002.
“I was a tomboy growing up,” says O’Bryan, whose mom enrolled her in a dance class. Then she “began to fiddle with dance in school” — where she was also “really into sports.” Eventually the Kentucky-born O’Bryan landed at a performing arts high school, where she majored in dance.
A teacher suggested O’Bryan pursue musical theater training, and it seems no arm twisting was required. She studied at both Roosevelt University in Chicago and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) in NYC. Though she’s studied ballet, modern dance and tap, O’Bryan says that “tap just really fit into my body.”
Folks who attend “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at ASU Gammage this week will get to see O’Bryan tap her little heart out in a show renowned for fabulous choreography and song. It’s recommended for ages five and up, and promises one very special and rare occurence as the show draws to a close — snow.
Coming up: Use your words, “Tintin” tales
Photo: Tanner Photography