Actors rehearse scenes from "Tinseltown Christmas" at UC Irvine's Claire Trevor Theatre on Saturday. (KEVIN CHANG, HB Independent / November 24, 2012)

Although UCI has done staged readings of Academy for New Musical Theatre scripts before, "Tinseltown Christmas" is the first to get green-lighted for a full production. Hill said part of what attracted the school to Wise's show was its potential for wide appeal, not least with older generations who had a fondness for Hollywood classics.

In honing the show for a wide audience, the producers ran into one sticking point with Wise's original title: "Black and White Christmas," which some feared would be interpreted as a racial commentary. Ultimately, Wise decided to substitute the more generic "Tinseltown."

"Black and White," in fact, referred to the original fashion concept for the movie star ghosts, who were supposed to appear in colorless clothes and white makeup (except for Garland, who sported Technicolor hair). According to Hill, that idea was scrapped in part because it might look too mournful, and in part because Hollywood, at the time the stars' holiday films were made, had long started experimenting with color.

Hues aside, the producers aimed to capture the old styles as much as possible — and created a running joke with Wood's character, who appears onstage as a grown woman but still sports her childhood clothes from "Miracle on 34th Street," which she's noticeably outgrown.

Amanda Minano, who plays Wood, said the play's costumer urged her to avoid carbohydrates over Thanksgiving to ensure that the costume would still fit.

"It looks a little bit awkward and uncomfortable, but it isn't too hard to wear," she said. "It's definitely better than a corset."

michael.miller@latimes.com

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

If You Go

What: "Tinseltown Christmas"

Where: Claire Trevor Theatre, UCI

When: 8 p.m. on Dec. 1; 2 p.m. on Dec. 2; 8 p.m. on Dec. 6; and 7, 2 and 8 p.m. on Dec. 8

Cost: $11 to $15

Information: (949) 824-2787 or drama.arts.uci.edu

The Ghosts of 'Tinseltown'

The new holiday musical "Tinseltown Christmas" stars the disembodied forms of four Hollywood icons: James Stewart, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Natalie Wood. Here's the rundown on each one — plus comments from the actors who play them at UCI:

JAMES STEWART

1908-1997

Best known as: The lovable Everyman in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and other Frank Capra classics; also took edgy turns in Hitchcock thrillers

Holiday classic: "It's a Wonderful Life"