Holiday performances are usually characterized by traditional shows, but Whitefish’s Alpine Theater Project’s tradition is to present something different each year. This year’s firsts: a new theater and the addition of New York performing guests.
Yuletide Affair 4 will be ATP’s first performance in its new home, the newly constructed Whitefish Middle School Auditorium. The show will feature recording artist Greg Naughton and his wife, two-time Tony Award nominee actress Kelli O’Hara.
When the theater performed its first holiday show three years ago, ATP’s three founding artists, Betsi Morrison, Luke Walrath and David Ackroyd, and an accompanist were the only cast members. “There’s always a ‘Nutcracker’ or a ‘Christmas Carol;’ we wanted to come up with something a little different,” Walrath said. “The three of us ended up sitting in front of a white board going, ‘What songs do you like?’”
The trio added their own unique twists to favorites that year, like Ackroyd’s rendition of “My Favorite Things”– dry martinis and babes in bikinis – and the show was a success. They decided that format would be their tradition: something unique and new every year.
This year Naughton and O’Hara will be traveling from New York City to perform with Morrison, Walrath, Ackroyd and other returning cast members from past seasons. The show will combine traditional holiday favorites – some with variations – and cast originals.
With each new high-caliber performer – past acts include John Lithgow and Olympia Dukakis – ATP, a nonprofit professional theater company, inches ever closer to its ambitious goal of becoming a nationally recognized theater that draws professionals and shows straight off Broadway. “In the beginning it was mostly networking with friends, calling in favors, but recognition in the theater community is really starting to grow – more and more people are expressing interest,” Walrath said.
Walrath (Broadway’s “42nd Street”), Morrison (Broadway’s “Sound of Music”) and Ackroyd (Broadway’s “Children of a Lesser God”) have plenty of connections to call on, but they say Whitefish isn’t a hard sell. If a photograph of the area doesn’t do the trick, it’s the same thing that drew the three successful performers away from Broadway that convinces their peers.
“When I left the New York scene I was tired and burnt out,” Walrath said. “It got to where you felt like you were just punching a clock, and that’s not what I want to do or what an audience deserved.”
ATP’s goal is to give actors and actresses the opportunity to do high quality work in a comfortable, fun environment. “Nobody wants to open up the New York Times and read something bad about themselves,” Ackroyd said.
Naughton and O’Hara said they were excited to visit Montana, a place O’Hara has never been, and step briefly out of the fast pace and pressure of the New York atmosphere. For Naughton, performing at ATP means a personal visit to long-time friend Ackroyd. “My father and David were classmates at Yale drama school,” he said. “Our families are very close; in fact, when I was born our two families lived together in a home in New Haven, Conn., one upstairs, the other one down.”
Naughton’s last and only trip to the Flathead Valley was a memorable one: a camping and horseback trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. “Kelli grew up on a farm in middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma and I grew up in Connecticut,” Naughton said. “For both of us, the city is where we live because of business but we both have our own love-hate relationship with it. This will be a welcome escape.”
And, despite having performed in Carnegie Hall just last week, O’Hara said coming to a much smaller town and venue isn’t a letdown: “They’re very specific, different things. Carnegie Hall is what it is, but think I nature is about the most beautiful house in the world, so going out into a beautiful place like Montana to perform is an amazing opportunity.”
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