SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Folks in North Texas are accustomed to “Blue Skies” and a good old-fashioned “Heat Wave,” but it’s the area’s penchant to “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” that sets it apart.
It’s also an area that values the relationship it has with the military, specifically that of Sheppard AFB and its surrounding communities, including Wichita Falls.
That will be put on display Dec. 3, 2018, when Backdoor Theatre brings its theatrical production of the musical “White Christmas” to the base theater for a performance especially for the men and women in uniform, their families and others. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and the show starts at 7 p.m. with a talented cast of local actors, including a few faces from Sheppard.
The story of “White Christmas,” originally a 1954 movie feature Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, is the story of two World War II buddies – Bob Wallace (Zach Binx) and Phil Davis (Michael Sherry) – who form a powerful two-man show and follow two equally powerful sisters – Betty Haynes (82nd Medical Group’s Tech. Sgt. Melissa Cuevas) and Judy Haynes (97th Flying Training Squadron’s Tech. Sgt. Amy Ray) – to a Vermont lodge with love in mind. But love takes a temporary backseat when their attention turns to the familiar face of the lodge owner, their old commander from the war.
Director Erin Sherry said the show is truly about appreciating the life you have and what people are willing to do for you because of a connection or a deep relationship. She said Maj. Gen. Thomas Waverly (82nd Training Wing faculty development instructor and retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jon Kreuger) speaks of counting blessings instead of sheep, that is, remember what you’re blessed with instead of stressing over the small things.
“It’s about the lengths people are willing to go through because they care about you so much,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest focuses the two leads, Bob and Phil, they love the general so much that they go out of their way to make sure that he has all of these people at his inn to support him, and I think that’s one of the biggest messages.”
In essence, it’s what makes being a member of the armed forces so unique.
Cuevas, a native of Great Falls, Montana, and 18-year veteran of the Air Force, said she has watched the movie since she was a little girl and it serves as a reminder of family memories and the holidays. It’s a show that displays the companionship seen in the military and she is excited to bring it to Sheppard for Airmen and others to see.
“’White Christmas’ is a classic World War II-period show which emphasizes the comradery military personnel share,” she said. “I am excited to share that with my team through the show.”
Ray, who has been performing on stage for 25 years and has served in the Air Force for 12, said she couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to be part of the show “to bring a little extra holiday cheer” to Team Sheppard. The Eugene, Oregon-native said the holiday season is one that reminds her of happy, simple times, and this “cheesy Christmas musical” is one that draws on the important things in life like family, friends and loved ones.
“We are so excited to bring this show to the Airmen on base, some who might not be getting to spend the holidays at home,” she said, adding young adults are sometimes a difficult draw to live theatre. “I hope we can take their minds off those everyday stressors if just for an hour or two. And who knows, maybe we will even get a few of them humming that old Bing Crosby classic on their way home.”
The idea of bringing the show to the base came up a little more than a year ago when Michael Sherry approached Kreuger – a regular stage presence at Backdoor Theatre for many years – with the idea of taking the show on the road and through Sheppard’s gates. The performance would be a salute to the military as well as recognition of the long-time relationship the base and theatre has shared.
Krueger said a Sheppard performance has always been a goal of his because Sheppard and Wichita Falls are one community.
Michael Sherry said they are able to do location performances through a grant from the Wichita Falls Alliance for Arts and Culture. He said because “White Christmas” is a show that has the underlying military connection as a foundation, it was the perfect show to bring to Wichita Falls and its strong military community.
He said he is enamored with USO shows that go to the troops and perform, and the production on Dec. 3 is certainly in that vein.
“I never had the opportunity to serve, so it’s my own way to say thank you to the troops, but in a way, it’s Backdoor’s way to say thank you,” he said. “Backdoor is actually founded by several Airmen and several guys who were stationed on Sheppard. So, what better way for us to say thank you and Happy Holidays than to give this show to the troops at Sheppard for free.”
Erin Sherry, who is making her directorial debut in a production of this scale, said the show does follow the same storyline as the big-screen version, but there are a few nuances to the stage productions that broadens the experience even more. More songs are included with the original repertoire seen in the movie, some of the dance numbers are changed up a bit and a couple different characters are introduced along the way.
She said she could not have asked for a better cast and crew to come together to put on a show that continues to build from curtain up.
Including the Dec. 3 show at the base theater, “White Christmas” will run at Backdoor Theatre, located at 501 Indiana Ave. in downtown Wichita Falls, Nov. 23-Dec. 15 and offers military discounts. For more information, visit www.backdoortheatre.org.