Orange County

Irving Berlin's White Christmas - National Tour

The classic holiday story based on Irving Berlin's beloved film.

What Makes White Christmas Star Stephen Buntrock's Holiday Season Merry and Bright?

Stephen Buntrock, a self-described Christmas junkie, is spreading holiday cheer across the U.S. this December in the national tour of White Christmas. As Bob Wallace, part of a showbiz pair that mounts a production in the attempt to save a Vermont inn, Buntrock is reveling in the classic Irving Berlin tunes. Previously seen as Frederik in the starry Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, Buntrock talks to about man-crushing on his co-star, bringing Santa Claus to his hotel room and (almost) seeing Bernadette Peters naked.

You’re playing the role made classic by Bing Crosby in the movie. Does following in those footsteps put a little extra energy in your step?
I have not seen the movie since I was eight years old. Brian d’Arcy James, who created the role on stage, is a dear friend of mine and I always have him in the back of my mind. I’m having an absolute blast playing Bob Wallace. I’m so blessed to be playing opposite David Elder [as Phil Davis], who is my partner in crime on stage. Like most people in this cast, he has done the show three or four times. They have been so incredibly welcoming to a newcomer like myself.

What is it about this show that gets you excited?
You have a really quick love story. Everything is boy-meets-girl, girl-hates-man, man-falls-in-love-with-girl. But it’s like sitting back in a comfy armchair, and I love taking the ride every night.

As a cast, you’ll be spending the entire Christmas season together. How’s the bonding going?
We came together quickly as a family. We just laugh all the time. I’m not making this up: every day when I wake up, I cannot wait to go to work. I can’t wait to see all of their faces. I’ve already said that David Elder is… Well, I’ll just say it—I have a man crush. He’s just incredible. I just don’t see anyone else in these roles. This is the way I will see White Christmas from now on.

You’re following your white tuxedo in A Little Night Music up with this fancy red one in White Christmas. Are you only taking roles now where you look awesome in a tux?
Yes, it seems to be! [Laughs.] Believe me, when we did a costume fitting, Daddy here gained a little weight. I said, “Oh boy, we’ve got to get this under control. I don’t want my gut hanging out over my cummerbund.”

Do you connect with these old, classic musicals?
I have never really sung Irving Berlin before this, but I have never enjoyed singing on stage more than I do during this show. The music is lifting you and making you float. This is wonderful, melodic stuff. Coming from a Stephen Sondheim musical, in which my brain was absolutely fried, this stuff is absolutely joyful every single night. I’ve also never had an ensemble behind me singing and dancing, while I’m singing and dancing. To feel that energy behind you and you’re leading them; I just love it.

Is your family going to be with you on Christmas while White Christmas is playing in Costa Mesa?
Being away from my family during this season is the only negative side to this whole experience. But my wife [Broadway actress Erin Dilly] and three daughters will be flying out to be with me on December 22. We had a discussion yesterday about the Christmas gifts for our kids. Since we’ll be in a hotel room, we’re debating how many presents we can bring. I think they’re going to be really confused because there’s no chimney; they’re going to try to find out how Santa really gets into the room.

What’s your family’s usual Christmas tradition?
We have a huge party on Christmas Eve. One year, we had almost 45 people. Then we wake up in the morning, most of us hung over, and then we spread the gifts out throughout the whole day.

How do you feel about spending Christmas in Costa Mesa? I know you’re originally from Chicago, so it’s not a traditional Christmas climate for you.
I’m not a big fan of Christmas in warm climates. I’m from Chicago, and I always dream of a white Christmas and to have snow on the ground. You just have to roll with it. It’s all about family and togetherness—that’s the most important thing.

You have to admit, it’s pretty ironic that you’re performing White Christmas in California. I doubt you’ll see snow.
Yes, but I love the snow machine we have in the show! The first time I saw it, I was giddy as a little school girl.

Last Christmas, you were playing Bernadette Peters’ love interest in A Little Night Music. How is Peters as an onstage lover?
I have to say, I will never forget the moment at the end of my first show with her when I knelt down and was about to kiss her. I thought, “Oh my sweet Lord, I’m about to make out with Bernadette Peters!” She was an incredible onstage partner.

It’s time for serious questions. In the scene where Peters as Desiree opens her robe, showing her naked body to Frederik, what did you see?
[Laughs] She had a flesh-colored bra and underwear on. Believe me, it was a joy every single night having that moment happen. I always wanted to stretch that moment out as long as I could. Mind you, I played opposite both Bernadette and Catherine Zeta-Jones. All that I was thinking about when they opened up their robes was, “My God, these women are so hot!” When it comes to Bernadette, if she was single and I was single, I would have been asking her out right from that moment on. I would want to date her in a second. I was always waiting for them to write something on their bellies. That would have completely gotten me.

Did you get any presents from Elaine Stritch, who played Madame Armfeldt in Night Music?
Yes, I did. She has a tradition. Her late husband was the owner of Bays English Muffins, so she’s the sole heir of the company. She sent the entire cast a huge box of English muffins. They just showed up on our doorstep. There were about 22 packages of English muffins in there. We gave some of them out on Christmas Eve as party favors.

See Stephen Buntrock in White Christmas at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts from December 13 through January 1.

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