'White Christmas' cast member honors granddad George Steinbrenner

BY JOHN FLEMING

Times Performing Arts Critic

In the playbill for White Christmas, the bio for cast member Haley Swindal dedicates her performance in the musical to "Bumpo,'' the family nickname of her grandfather, George Steinbrenner, the principal owner of the New York Yankees and Tampa kingpin who died in July.

"He inspired me very much,'' Swindal said last week from Hartford, Conn., where the show was playing. "He was always so supportive. He loved musical theater and was a producer of several Broadway shows. He was always really excited that it was my passion. He saw everything I ever did. Grandparents day, every school event, he was there for me."

Swindal, who turned 25 on Wednesday, grew up in Tampa, the daughter of Jennifer Steinbrenner Swindal, one of Steinbrenner's two daughters. Haley Swindal is now living in New York and making her way as an actor. White Christmas is her first major tour.

"It's really big for me because I've only been out of college for two years,'' said Swindal, who went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "To book this show was really incredible. It's amazing talent, and to get to play my hometown is really exciting, too.''

White Christmas, which opens Tuesday in Tampa, is based on the 1954 movie in which Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play Army buddies who do a song and dance act in a revue at their old general's resort in Vermont. The Irving Berlin score includes Blue Skies, I Love a Piano, Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep, Happy Holiday and, of course, White Christmas.

Swindal is in the ensemble, as well as playing the small part of Tessie, a secretary. She is the understudy for the leading role of Betty (played by Amy Bodnar in the tour and Rosemary Clooney in the movie). Her previous professional performing experience includes roles in nonunion tours of Jesus Christ Superstar and I Love a Piano, a revue of Berlin songs her late grandfather saw her in when it played at Ruth Eckerd Hall.

She'll be staying with family in Tampa during the White Christmas run. Her grandmother, Joan Steinbrenner, regularly attends Broadway shows at the Straz Center.

"This is a dream come true for me,'' Swindal said. "I was always the one singing around the house and driving everyone nuts. It will be very exciting to be at home and share what I love with my family in this show.''

When the Yankees were in the American League playoffs this year, Swindal sang God Bless America during the seventh inning stretch at two games. "He (Steinbrenner) always wanted me to do it, but I never would,'' Swindal said. "So I did it this year as a tribute to him, because I promised him I would do it.''

Yankee Stadium was packed. Swindal, wearing a Yankee warmup jacket, performed the song a cappella from behind home plate.

"It was so nerve-racking,'' Swindal said. "There was a picture of him out in the outfield. I just sang to his picture out there, so that was comforting.''

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716. He blogs on Critics Circle at tampabay.com/blogs/critics.

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White Christmas

The musical opens Tuesday and runs through Dec. 5 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Dec. 2, 8 p.m. Dec. 3, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 4, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5. $43.50-$85. (813) 229-7827 or toll-free 1-800-955-1045; strazcenter.org.

'White Christmas' cast member honors granddad George Steinbrenner 11/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 3:30am]

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