New Year, New Yule

Celebrating the 20th anniversary of “Yuletide Affair,” Alpine Theatre Project continues its journey of bringing holiday fun to the Flathead Valley with three performances Dec. 20-22

By Tristan Scott
Rebecca Spear performs for a Yultetide music video from the Alpine Theatre Project in Whitefish on Dec. 12, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

If the first performance is a debut and the third is a trend, then the 10th is tradition while the 20th is as familiar as a dear old friend.

In Whitefish, the star-studded cast and producers of the “Yuletide Affair” hope that message resonates with theater-goers as the Alpine Theatre Project (ATP) prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the “Yuletide Affair” this season, arranging an annual mix of heartwarming holiday music and irreverent satire that has become one of the Flathead Valley’s most enduring holiday traditions.

The “Yuletide Affair” tradition began in 2003, before ATP became its own company and was still under the umbrella of Whitefish Theatre Company. Since then, Yuletide Affair has sold out every show without ever repeating a performance. 

“The concert originated as a fundraiser after ATP’s first year and was meant to raise funds for the following season for the fledgling operation,” according to Betsi Morrison, the founder of ATP. “Then it just kept growing.”

The inaugural concert featured ATP’s founders, David Ackroyd, Betsi Morrison, and Luke Walrath, accompanied on piano by Kate Schenck, the granddaughter of Big Mountain co-founder, Ed Schenck. Invitations to the concert were handmade by Morrison and Walrath and tickets could be ordered by leaving messages on Morrison’s home phone.

“Yuletide was born out of Luke’s and my living room. It’s hard to imagine it’s 20 years later,” Morrison stated in a press release announcing the upcoming shows. “Yuletide is such a special program to us — incredibly talented, friends getting together to make beautiful music. We feel so honored that Whitefish has loved this program for all these years.”

Actors Luke Walrath, Billy Thompson, Dustin Brayley, and Eric Krop from the Alpine Theatre Project sing and strut for scene for a Yuletide music video in Whitefish on Dec. 12, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

“Its roster of artists and set lists that change each year, so it never gets dull,” added Walrath. “It has become one of the most sought-after gigs for past and present ATP artists, and a holiday tradition for many in the valley.”

Over the years, Yuletide Affair has featured notable performances that include David Sedaris’ “The SantaLand Diaries” and a collaboration with Montana Public Radio to present Orson Welles’ radio version of “A Christmas Carol.” In 2007, Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara performed along with her singer/filmmaker husband Greg Naughton.

As the unique method of creating the show solidified, artists were invited to travel to Whitefish’s winter wonderland and spend between a week and 10 days rehearsing and performing. “We create a set list of songs and hole up in beautiful places to rehearse the show,” says Morrison.

The popular concept of the “Politically Incorrect Carolers” was incorporated into the show, bringing more satire to balance out its heartfelt holiday musical tone. The performance also began to include more artists who had recently performed at ATP during the summer productions, including Broadway stars, opera singers, and rock bands.

“What better way to sum up the Alpine Theatre Project than with the Yuletide Affair,” Walrath said. “It started as an experiment, it is focused on strong entertainment with jaw-dropping talent, it keeps reinventing itself, and, hopefully, never takes itself too seriously. I’m grateful that the community has embraced it — and ATP — all these years.”

Three shows are scheduled for the 20th-anniversary run that begins Wednesday, Dec. 20 and runs nightly through Friday, Dec. 22, starting at 7 p.m. at the Whitefish Performing Arts Center. The event is sponsored by Whitefish Mountain Resort, Glacier Bank, Stebbins Dental, North Forty Resort, Whitefish Credit Union and Tamarack Dispensary.

For more information and tickets, visit www.atpwhitefish.org.

Artists in the 2023 production

Robert Creighton – From the Broadway productions of “Frozen,” “Anything Goes,” “The Lion King,” “Chicago,” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

Virginia Woodruff – From the Broadway productions of “The Color Purple,” “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” “Leap of Faith,” and “Violet.”

Julie Foldesi – From the Broadway productions of “Newsies,” “The Full Monty,” “South Pacific,” and “Little Women.”

Aaron Lavigne – Star of the 50th anniversary tour of “Jesus Christ Superstar” and the Broadway production of “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark.”

Angela Wildflower – From the Broadway production of “Motown the Musical.”

Meredith Patterson – From the Broadway productions of “42nd Street,” “White Christmas” and “The Green Bird.”

Summer Boggess – Cellist. From the Broadway productions of “Mean Girls,” “Hello Dolly!” “Les Miserables,” “Big Fish,” “Porgy and Bess,” and “Scandalous.”

Ross Bridgeman – Singer. Songwriter. Producer. Last seen at ATP as Jerry Lee Lewis in “Million Dollar Quartet.”

Halladay Quist – Local Singer. Songwriter. Sultry bass master.

Lauren Thomas – New York City actor and multi-instrumentalist from the Drama Desk Award-winning revival of “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Luke Walrath – Co-Founder of Alpine Theatre Project.

Rob Fahie – Bass.

Todd Cowart – Guitar.

Jeremy Reinbolt – Drums and music arrangement.

Tracy McDowell – From the productions of “Rent” and “Motown the Musical” on Broadway.

Betsi Morrison – Co-Founder of Alpine Theatre Project.

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