Tonight at the Curve Theatre, the planets aligned, the stars came out and the audience for White Christmas were transported to a different world. This is a production that is, frankly, faultless, and which manages to honour the tradition of the iconic film whilst creating something fresh and magical.
White Christmas is a standard in the Hollywood pantheon of film musicals: featuring the biggest names with unforgettable songs, huge dance numbers, and luscious costumes, all presented in the newly introduced VistaVision circa 1954. As a vehicle for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s considerable talents, it delivered in spades – and who doesn’t love a double love interest story? So, how do you tackle something so ingrained in people’s psyche and do it justice? You get someone with the focus and attention to detail like Nikolai Foster to direct it, and voila, the job is done. Well, months of painstaking research, assembling a top-notch production team and a stunning cast, rehearsing and revising and revisiting until it’s just right ….. then, maybe, it’s done.
The casting of the leads in this show is inspired. Danny Mac, a Curve and audience favourite, plays Captain Bob Wallace with all the laid-back nonchalance of Bing Crosby but with more quiet intensity and emotion. His mellifluous voice is soft and warm, something like cashmere, and when singing the title song, he captures the audience’ hearts. His side-kick, comedy partner is Dan Burton as Phil Davis, and he proudly stomps all over the memory of Danny Kaye, out-singing, out-dancing and out-smarting him in every way. The energy levels and 110% commitment of Burton mean he is spot on, bang on, every time, every move. The dance skills of both men are superb and they front a flawless ensemble in many big numbers, matching their energy levels and polish, move for move.
The female leads are equally as accomplished and dazzling. Emma Williams portrays Betty Haynes as someone with a sense of caring maturity combined with social awkwardness and makes her human and charming. There is an intensity and focus to Williams performances that makes her totally believable. Facially, physically and emotionally she expresses every syllable of every song and does it all with supreme control. Her performance of ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me’ is astonishing, ranging from full-on vamp to emotionally decimated, all in the space of a few bars. Betty’s sister Judy is more fleet and free, and Monique Young captures the vivacity and spirit of this role through her apparently effortless, triple-threat performance. Young is such a natural, she makes both singing and dancing look like a walk in the park.
There are numerous ‘big’ ensemble numbers in White Christmas, which gives Choreographer Stephen Mear the opportunity to really go to town with stylised formats and different approaches. Irving Berlin’s music must be a joy to work with but Mear uses it brilliantly as a springboard to feature a ballet-jazz style which is exclusive to the Hollywood era of the 1950s. When ‘Happy Holiday’ morphs into ‘Let Yourself Go’ early in the first act, the show really bursts into life. The huge enjoyment the dancers are getting from performing this number is evident – it’s sharp, slick, energetic and sassy, each accent emphasised, each beat hit, each pose perfected down to the angle of a wrist or the flick of a head. ‘I Love a Piano’ opens the second act with pizzazz and its blend of duet, group and sequence tap moves is spectacular.
But the biggest wow-factor is saved for ‘The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing’ – another iconic scene from the film – which here becomes the most sweeping, romantic scene ever staged! With wonderfully lyrical movement, the set transforms into an enchanting, dream-like setting, where costume, lighting and movement all combine to produce something spell-binding.
There are many supporting roles also performed with great feeling: Garry Robson as General Waverly is warm and confident. Wendy Mae Brown lives up to the name of Martha ‘megaphone’ Watson with her huge voice which fills the theatre. Roger Dipper is Ralph Sheldrake, the producer with an idea for a ‘million dollar proposition’, and plays it with just the right amount of cheese but no sleaze. At this performance, Susan Waverly is played by Georgia Stewart, and what an assured and talented young girl this is.
The 7 piece band under MD Neil MacDonald manage to produce a huge, big-band sound and squeeze every ounce of style out of the music. The set, by Michael Taylor, is deceptively simple and clever, and when combined with various ‘imagery’ creates something really spectacular. The costumes by Diego Pitarch are dazzling, creating visual flow and movement, and in a series of 1950s perfect palettes.
White Christmas is a sparkling success, full of warmth and energy, it flies along with pace and charm, and sweeps you off your feet. In homage to Love and the Weather, I’d say its something that can absolutely be depended upon to bring the festive spirit to all. So, may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be White. Jing Jing Jing Jing Jing Jing Jing.
Irving Berlin’s White Christmas runs at Curve Leicester until Sunday 13th Jan 2019.
Tickets 0116 242 3595
White Christmas is a Made At Curve production in association with Jamie Wilson
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