‘White Christmas’ at Benedum Center brings back ‘cool grandfather’ Schuck
You might not recognize Conrad John Schuck’s name.
But it’s likely his face is familiar.
During his five-decade acting career, he has appeared in four Broadway productions, had 91 movie and television roles, including Capt. “Painless Pole” Waldowski in the film version of “M*A*S*H” and a Klingon ambassador in both “Star Trek IV” and “Star Trek V” and as Chief of Detectives Muldrew in eight separate episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
He also has been in six Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera productions that include two stints as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie,” Captain Hook in “Peter Pan” and Ben Franklin in “1776.”
Elizabeth Taylor gave him his first screen kiss in “Hammersmith is Out” in 1972.
“I’m grateful to TV and the movies that I’m able to use that broad national audience (recognition) and apply it to getting roles in theater,” Schuck says.
He will return to Pittsburgh on Nov. 18 as Army commander-turned-innkeeper Gen. Waverly in the musical “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” which will run through Nov. 23 at the Benedum Center, Downtown.
The musical began life as a 1954 film with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and has become a perennial favorite for viewing during the Christmas holidays.
The stage adaptation written by David Ives and Paul Blake played on Broadway during the 2008 and ’09 holiday seasons and was revived this year for a six-city holiday tour.
“It simplifies the holidays. You don’t have to worry which child’s house you’re going to,” says Schuck, who, at 74, prides himself on being known as “the cool grandfather.”
Set in the years after World War II, “White Christmas” is a fluffy, nostalgic romantic comedy about a pair of young war veterans who team up to become a top song-and-dance act. When they fall for a pair of sisters who also have a similar act the guys — Bob Wallace and Phil Davis — follow Judy and Betty Haynes to a Vermont lodge where the women are booked to play a Christmas show. To the men’s surprise, their former commander, Gen. Waverly, is the owner of the ski lodge that is struggling with a lack of snow and guests.
Schuck was first asked to play the role when the stage musical began in San Francisco in 2004. But he was forced to turn it down when it conflicted with a movie offer.
“I saw it three years ago in Memphis and thought it was wonderful,” Schuck says. “I love the show period of the ’40s and post-war (years), and it has glorious Irving Berlin music.”
The score includes “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “Happy Holiday,” “Sisters,” “Blue Skies” and, of course, the title song, “White Christmas.”
Director and choreographer Randy Skinner also has created big dance numbers on a par with those he created for “42nd Street,” Schuck says.
“There’s a huge tap number from the era with big-band, swing, Busby Berkeley moments,” Schuck says. “These are seasoned dancers who have been in the business for a long time. They are absolutely remarkable.”
While Schuck has enjoyed adding depth and emotion to his character, he prefers to leave most of the song-and-dance moments to others.
“I don’t sing until the finale,” he says. “And I do have a couple of steps at the end. But we call that ‘movement.’ ”