Excited is too inexpressive a word to describe how we felt at being invited by Curve’s Artistic Director, Nikolai Foster, to the First Day Meet/Rehearsal for their main house 2018 Christmas show – White Christmas. Phil Lowe eagerly attended and what he found was much more than a frou frou approach to the themes in Irving Berlin’s lovable Christmas Fest, White Christmas. Both Nikolai and Executive Director Chris Stafford have great ambitions for this year’s Christmas show and it is all to do with community and bettering the world we live in.
Phil Lowe: “After I arrived close to 10am on Monday 29th October at the Curve Theatre I was welcomed by Fiona Moore and Nikolai himself (in an all star spangled jumper for the event) and was ushered up to the big rehearsal room so familiar from previous visits. The room was packed with Curve staff and the White Christmas cast and the show’s producer Jamie Wilson and other interested parties. I had a bit of a mingle via the delicious breakfast pastry selection and coffee table and said some pleasant hellos to Jamie Wilson, Chris Stafford, Stephen Mear, Garry Robson, Emma Williams and a young man called James on a DMU Journalist Degree placement at Curve. ASD Mandeep Glover and I declared ourselves Mr and Mrs Mustard on account of the twin colours of our clothes!
Nikolai welcomed everyone and was considerate enough to remark upon the terrible accident over the weekend that had befallen Leicester City Football Club owner Mr Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, his partner and two members of his staff in a helicopter disaster and how it had profoundly affected the Leicester community. He continued with dignity and talked to the actors and creatives about White Christmas and Irving Berlin the composer.”
Picking up on an edited interpretation of the following speech by Nikolai we learnt much about Irving Berlin and his times.
Nikolai: “Blue Skies was written about the birth of Irving Berlin’s daughter when he looked into her eyes and it seemed the entire universe presided there. Those lyrics seem so simple but when you start to break down the genesis of the song, both musically in terms of the dots on the page and the words that the man chooses – very specifically chooses – just slightly changing a word in a different verse – you start to realise this is really complex, sophisticated, beautiful writing.
And that’s why we are here today because those songs still have something to teach us about who we are and about how we sit within a very complex and challenging and frankly, often frightening world.
When you look under the plot of this (White Christmas) you get some really juicy anchor points. In the early 1920s there wasn’t such a thing as a Broadway musical. The entertainment of the day was vaudeville, a series of a variety of acts and pretty much a free for all entertainment for the masses.
Irving Berlin started to look at what was going on around New York city at this time in history. He soon came to realise that the police force and judiciary were very corrupt. If you had enough clout, menace or money you could buy yourself freedoms from crimes and misdemeanours. You could negate prison and negate the law by paying off people in the world of justice.
So, theatrically, instead of disconnected scenes, as in vaudeville shows, he started writing connected scenes. What he actually started to do was create what we now recognise as the book musical. The foundations of musical theatre are based on the work of people like Irving Berlin writing revues or early musicals based on the status quo. A mirror was held up to their society and the artistic creators wrote songs which satirised the idiocy or madness of what was going on in their society.
If we look at the world today we will see all sorts of political uncertainty and this musical play is about people coming together and trying to do something to better their community. And I think that, in this city of Leicester, in this country right now there couldn’t be a better offering on stage; with these songs; with this ecstasy of Stephen’s choreography, Michael’s incredible design, the fabulous costumes; the lights and the sound.
You actors will create something really joyous and life affirming which will continue to bring our communities together and bring new people into the theatre. Because White Christmas is, at its heart, a story of people being displaced from war. The character Bob Wallace played by our Danny Mac is potentially coping with post traumatic stress disorder and the show hints at these two main ex army buddies and how they reconcile what they have seen whilst active in war in Europe.
General Waverly’s story is so pertinent today. It looks at how we treat older members of our society that have been out there helping to lead a country in a major war and when they come back they gradually become old news, dismissed and washed under the carpet. Yet they still have much to offer.
That’s what this piece recognises and that’s what the young kids are doing in putting on this show; using their talents and their skills. They want to try and make this community in which Martha Watson (Wendy Mae Brown) and General Waverly (Garry Robson) live, better and try to raise funds to that effect. It’s a story of charity. It’s a story of community. This show teaches us something challenging, something surprising, something political and unique to our theatrical experience.
Aside from coming back from war and what that means, they are trying to re-integrate back into society and its a real game changer for the characters in the play. The characters are there right at the beginning of a post war economic ascendancy for the USA i.e. the birth of television, the sense of the American dream literally being a reality. All of the characters are part of that cultural infrastructure of growth and great optimism and great creativity as they rocket forward.”
As a group we were introduced the USA Barn style set that has been created by Michael Taylor who designed the fantastic set for last year’s Scrooge The Musical and An Officer and A Gentleman and it takes us on a brilliant journey through late 1940s and 1950s New York and the mountainous landscape of Vermont with many magical surprises along the way.
Overall the day was a super learning experience which included a partial read through of the book by David Ives and Paul Blake and a sing through of some of the well known songs.
Huge thanks to Curve and Nikolai Foster for the opportunity. We look forward to seeing you again with the White Christmas cast mid November and on press night.
Phil Lowe and Kathryn McAuley.