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Home for the holidays

Local talent shines in Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’

Irving Berlin’s White Christmas 2017 National Tour Company

Jeremy Daniel Photography

A few years ago, Karilyn Ashley Surratt drove by the old Tulsa school where her grandmother used to teach. It looked the same to her, except for the lack of students bustling in and out. This is the place Surratt first fell in love
with dance.

“When I drove by I could totally picture myself standing out front in my dance costume getting my picture taken before a performance,” she said.

Now she’s returning to where her career started for the upcoming production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” running Nov. 20–25 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. The show falls during a perfect time because it means Surratt gets to spend Thanksgiving with her family for the first time in a long time.

Born in Oklahoma City, Surratt lived in Tulsa with her grandparents until age six, when her mother finished medical school, and the two moved to St. Louis for her mom’s residency.

“I feel so connected to Oklahoma,” she said. “I feel almost more at home in Oklahoma than I do in St. Louis because [I spent the] school year in St. Louis and the day school was out I was on a plane to Tulsa going to spend the summer with my grandparents on their ranch.”

Her grandmother taught at Briarwood Elementary, which is also where Surratt met one of the most influential people in her life—a woman she knew simply as Miss Julie, who came after school and held dance classes for anyone who was interested.

“She would put together these amazing Christmas programs and Valentine’s Day [programs]. We had a couple throughout the year,” Surratt said. “I remember my grandmother sewing my costumes and putting glue on wands for the little ballerinas.”

A year after graduating from Oklahoma City University with a degree in dance performance, Surratt booked three shows—one of them being “White Christmas,” a show she’s loved most of her life. She noted the choreography by Tony Award-nominated choreographer Randy Skinner brings the stage to life and cited a George Balanchine quote: “See the music, hear the dance.”

Karilyn Ashley Surratt“Skinner has mastered this in this show with how seamlessly the choreography lends itself to continuing the story and becomes a part of the storytelling of this production,” Surratt said.

That first show was in 2006. Surratt knew she wanted to perform “White Christmas” again, but in the 10 years to follow, she got a gig dancing with The Rockettes. “I’m so excited this is the show I’m coming back to Tulsa to perform.”

“The final number [‘White Christmas’], visually, is beautiful,” Surratt said. “The entire cast is on stage. The ensemble is tap dancing downstage, the curtain lifts, and we come straight down the stage in a line. … It’s so magical to be a part of.”

In addition to family reunions, Surratt also gets a chance to connect with former OCU classmates and other friends she’s met during her dancing career, including some of the cast members from her debut “White Christmas” performance in 2006.

Surratt said the audience can expect a visually-striking and emotional show that will make you feel right at home during the holidays. “It just embodies the spirit of the holiday season,” she said. “I’m excited to share that with my home state.”

About “White Christmas”

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” tells the story of a song-and-dance team putting on a show in a magical Vermont inn who fall for a stunning sister act in the process. Based on the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, this stage adaption is full of dancing, laughter and—of course—plenty of snow. Featuring classic songs like “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Happy Holiday,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” and the beloved title song, “White Christmas” is a timeless tale of joy and goodwill that will leave the whole family feeling merry and bright.

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