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White Christmas' Carol Swarbrick on 5th Avenue
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White Christmas' Carol Swarbrick on 5th Avenue

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Carol Swarbrick (married name Dries) has become the darling actress of the 5th Avenue Theatre. She's performed in numerous shows there as well as being a veteran of television, movies and The Great White Way. Her face should be easily recognized by Seattle theatergoers, and her name in the program is a potential promise of good things to come. Returning to the 5th Avenue Theatre's presentation of Irving Berlin's classic White Christmas, Ms. Swarbrick recreates the role of Martha Watson, an innkeeper's concierge with a heart of gold.

Eric Andrews-Katz: You've worked on television, the stage and the big screen. Which venue do you prefer?

Carol Swarbrick: Definitely the stage; you get that interaction with the audience right away. It's more challenging because of that and more satisfying as well. It's live. It's now. There is no safety net like with TV or film, no taping it again. It's really fun to do a sitcom with a live audience because you get that live interaction, plus, if you do make a mistake, you can retake.

Andrews-Katz: What was your first show for the 5th Avenue Theatre?

Swarbrick: A Day in Hollywood& in 1982 on a national tour. The productions at the 5th Avenue are absolutely brilliant. As far as most are concerned [in the professional theater community], the 5th Avenue is Broadway.

Andrews-Katz: Since 1982, you've performed in shows like Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Hello Dolly and many others. What was your favorite role?

Swarbrick: It would have to be a three-way tie. There's no way I can compare the roles of Mame (title role), Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd) and George's Mother from Sunday in the Park With George.

Andrews-Katz: From your stage roles, with which do you most identify?

Swarbrick: It would have to be Martha Watson from White Christmas. As she says, "Let me sing, and I'm happy."

Andrews-Katz: You've performed on Broadway in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Side By Side By Sondheim, among others. Do you prefer to work in lighter or more complex musicals?

Swarbrick: I prefer more complex musicals. It's more challenging and more rewarding. The depths that I got to delve into for George's Mother has been untapped in any other show I've done. Playing in Side By Side, I get to sing "Anita" from West Side Story, a role that I wouldn't get to normally sing. You'll never plunder all the depths in Sondheim's music. The man is clever so there is cleverness to his lyrics.

Andrews-Katz: You've mentioned what you like the most about Sondheim's music. What do you like the least about singing his compositions?

Swarbrick: I can't think of anything that I don't like about performing Sondheim. It's wholly satisfying.

Andrews-Katz: Why do you think White Christmas holds up so well through the years?

Swarbrick: David Armstrong said it best three years ago at the premier mounting of this show at the 5th Avenue: "It's just a happy show. We get to be involved in a happy show."

Andrews-Katz: What differences will the audience notice between the film and stage versions?

Swarbrick: My character Martha sings two songs and there's a hint of romance between Martha and the General, which weren't in the movie. The song "Snow" has been opened up for the stage to allow the cast to join in instead of just the principle characters.

Andrews-Katz: What's next on your list after White Christmas?

Swarbrick: I'm not exactly sure. There's a contract in the offering, but the ink hasn't dried. Hopefully I'll know before this goes to print. I find myself in a wonderful place in my life. I don't have to scurry quite as much, career-wise, as I did in the past 35 years. I'm certainly not retiring, but I get to do the work I want to do and that's a huge blessing in the theater.

Andrews-Katz: What roles would you like to play?

Swarbrick: I'd like to play Joanne in Company. I think I can still pull that off. Also, Carlotta in Follies. I've already played Phyllis, but I'd like to try Carlotta's part. Then there's Norma Desmond, but I think Lloyd Webber pulled the rights on that, so that may be out.

White Christmas returns to the 5th Avenue as part of the holiday season. Based on the movie by the same name, the music and lyrics are written by Irving Berlin. The original Paramount film was released in 1954 starring Danny Kaye, Vera Ellen, Rosemary Clooney and Bing Crosby. The classic holiday tale includes such songs as "Snow," "Sisters," "Choreography," and, of course, the title song.

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