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Special Section Archives The Altamont Enterprise, November 17, 2011

Hilltowns dream of a White Christmas

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — While snow fell early this autumn, warmer days have made winter appear on the distant horizon. But pungent pine trees will soon stand in countless living rooms across the country, by lit fireplaces, and neatly wrapped boxes.

Though months have passed since the floods that swept the Northeast, many families are in need as the holidays approach, and the Hilltown Players have this in mind as they prepare to open Irving Berlin’s White Christmas this weekend.

“Tickets are half-price for Schoharie and Middleburgh residents,” said Penny Shaw, a longtime member of the Hilltowns Players who has directed many shows for the troupe, and worked on choreography with the ensemble for the upcoming show.

“We’re taking donations at the door to give to Schoharie and Middleburgh families,” Shaw said. “We’ll be giving everything to the Gallupville Lutheran Church, and they’re connected with the families out there to make sure they get the things that they need.”

They will be accepting money, food, and toiletries, among other donations, Shaw said.

For many of the Hilltowns Players, the opportunity to perform in White Christmas has been a long time coming, she went on.

“Next year will be our 30th year of the Hilltowns Players, and we wanted to end our third decade with a bang,” said Shaw. “Everybody has their expectations of what the show should be like,” she said of White Christmas, “and it’s a period piece, so we knew the whole show was going to be more of an undertaking, even budget-wise, but we felt it was time.”

Directing the principal cast is Hilltowns Player Heather Kissling, who started out as the assistant director, and who also plays a number of smaller roles in the show. This is her first time directing.

White Christmas, originally produced in 1954 as a Hollywood film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, tells the story of Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, a pair of U.S. soldiers who form a bond during a harrowing moment in battle near the end of World War II.

At the onset of this story, Wallace, a former Broadway performer, and Davis, a talented entertainer himself, put on a Christmas Eve show for their fellow soldiers. Here, we meet the charismatic song-and-dance tag team that leads the audience through a classic musical about love, showbiz, and what they bring to the holidays.

Later, during an intense firefight, Davis saves Wallace’s life, injuring instead. Davis, using the heroic act in his favor, persuades Wallace to help him into show business, and they form a massively successful duo after the war.

Jeffrey Van Iderstine, a member of the Hilltowns Players for close to four years now, told The Enterprise that White Christmas is one of his favorite movies, and he knew going into the audition that he wanted the part of Phil Davis.

“He’s the jokester, the ladies’ man, he doesn’t take anything too serious,” Van Iderstine said of the character. “The ladies man part is a bit of a stretch for me, but the jokester — that’s me,” he said with a proud laugh.

Bob Wallace will be portrayed by Russ Chauvot, who originally joined the Hilltowns Players in 2000. After a few years’ hiatus, Chauvot returned to the company last year, and is ready to take on the role originally played by Crosby.

“He’s a little bit straight-laced,” Chauvot said of his character. “We joke about his underwear being on too tight. He needs to loosen up.”

Chauvot thinks this may be rooted in Wallace’s fame before the war.

“He’s probably operating on a little bit higher level in the brain, and just not as social as some, because he’s very good at what he does,” he said of his character. “I do have a military career, so I have worked for many straight-laced, uptight captains that had that formality about them,” he laughed.

When love comes their way, it may be just what Wallace needs.

Years after the war, the duo receives a letter from a friend from the Army, asking that they let his sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes, audition for their show. The sisters, played in the original film by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, meet with Wallace and Davis to show them what they can do, and it is apparent that the destinies of these four are intertwined.

Betty, the older of the two sisters, will be played by Terri Osterhout-Paton.

“She’s looking to get out in the world, but she’s also playing mom to her younger sister, because mom isn’t with them,” Osterhout-Paton said of Betty. “She’s kind of proper, kind of stiff, but she likes to sing and dance.”

Though she has been a member of the Players for 25 years, this is Osterhout-Paton’s first leading role.

“So, the whole thing has been a challenge,” she said. “Usually, I like to be in the chorus, but this is my favorite show in the world, so getting the part of Betty Haynes was so exciting for me.”

Osterhout-Paton loves to sing, she said, and is a member of the Depot Lane Singers, a Schoharie-based group led by Mitchell Haverly, who retired as music director at Berne-Knox-Westerlo and is the musical director for White Christmas.

“I’m also empty-nesting,” Osterhout-Paton added with a frowning laugh. “My oldest got an apartment, my youngest is off to Potsdam, and so, I wanted to do something to stay busy. Four nights of this a week takes care of it.”

Judy Haynes, Betty’s sister, is played by Lydia Gerardi, a 2010 BKW graduate and member of the Hilltowns Players who is in her second year of college, studying nursing. This is her third show with the Hilltowns Players.

“Judy is the charismatic sister who’s up to no good, really,” said Gerardi with a grin. “Betty gets disappointed in me because I have all these different schemes to weave our way into show business. She doesn’t like how I do it, but I do it anyway.” And for this, Gerardi said, Judy is known as the “family rat,” but what Judy really wants is success for her sister.

Scott Rue, another BKW graduate now in college, will portray Ralph Sheldrake, another one of Wallace and Davis’s army buddies, who ends up as a producer on The Ed Sullivan Show.

“He’s the one that’s trying to get Bob and Phil back on the show, trying to set everything up,” Rue said. “He kind of accidentally messes things up. He’s got a great entertainment mind, not the best social speaker.”

One performance that Shaw wanted to highlight in this production was that of 12-year-old Michelle Ferraino, a seventh-grader at BKW. Ferraino plays Susan Waverly, the granddaughter of Major General Tom Waverly.

“She’s smart, but she’s scared of her grandfather,” Ferraino told The Enterprise. “He yells a lot…and she realizes that her grandfather needs to count his blessings instead of his sheep.”

Unlike the popular film, Susan gets to sing in this version of White Christmas, and she is not the only character with the added responsibilities.

Martha, played by Shaw in this production, gets to sing a few songs, though she doesn’t sing in the movie.

“There’s a lot of the show that is going to be familiar,” said Shaw, “very much like the movie that we’re used to watching every year, but with a few surprises.”


White Christmas will be showing at the Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School auditorium on Friday, Nov. 18, and Saturday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m.; and on Sunday, Nov. 20, at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $8 for teens and senior citizens, $6 for children 12 and under, and $10 for everyone else.

Tickets are half-price for residents of Middleburgh and Schoharie.

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