Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (The Musical)
A Made at Curve Production
Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by David Ives and Paul Blake
Directed by Ian Talbot OBE
Choreographed by Stephen Mear CBE
Musical Direction by Ben Van Tienen
Theatre Royal Nottingham (Touring)
Tuesday 22nd – Saturday 26th November 2022
Full disclosure, White Christmas is one of my all-time favourite festive films. The DVD gets dusted off every year and I never tire of seeing the inestimable Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye performing ‘Sisters.’ Rumour has it that Crosby was laughing so much at Kaye’s performance that the director decided to keep those takes in. The joy in that scene is both infectious and iconic, so I am full of high hopes that this touring production is going to kickstart my Christmas into full throttle.
Veterans Bob Wallace (Jay McGuiness) and Phil Davis (Dan Burton) are a successful post-war song and dance act, always on the lookout for the ‘million-dollar proposition.’ When their paths cross with the beautiful and talented Haynes sisters, Betty (Jessica Daley) and Judy (Monique Young), they find themselves in Pine Tree, Vermont at the inn owned by their former general, Henry Waverley, played by Michael Starke.
Unbeknownst to Waverley, the inn is having financial problems, so Wallace and Davis hatch a plan for a Christmas extravaganza and a giant reunion of their army colleagues in the 151st. If they happen to find true love on the way, who can begrudge them? It’s the perfect recipe for festive fun and frolics.
Set at Christmas 1954, the costumes (Diego Pitarch) and choreography (Stephen Mear) instantly transport you back to the time of old-school Hollywood glamour. Top hats, dinner jackets, tailcoats and elaborate evening gowns are a feast for the eyes. Whilst the choreography is top notch.
There is beautiful synchronicity, allied with grace and fluidity, by the committed cast comprising of Simon Anthony, Tom Bales, Lydia Bannister, George Beet, Imogen Bowtell, Isabel Canning, Gabrielle Cocca, Joseph Craig, Beth Devine, Steve Fortune, Ashton Harkness, Connor Hughes, Owen McHugh, Benjamin Mundy, James Revell, Sadie-Jean Shirley, Matthew Sweet, Lucy Warway, David Winters, and Alex Wright.
Perhaps we should now address the elephant in the room? No one can sing ‘White Christmas’ like Bing Crosby, nor would I expect them to. What McGuiness does bring is a sweetness and a freshness to proceedings, especially when he sings ‘Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep’ to young Susan Waverley (Lucy Warway).
Dan Burton is exemplary as Davis, with exquisite comic timing. I would, however, like to see more of the humorous ‘goofy’ side to his character as the physical comedy works so well, for instance in ‘I Love a Piano.’
It is therefore left to Lorna Luft as concierge Martha Watson to garner the night’s biggest laughs. She delivers expert one-liners, such as ‘You can shove it up your vacuum cleaner and turn it up high,’ that have the audience in stitches. Furthermore, when she sings ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,’ her exuberant vocal makes us all happy alongside her. The friendship with General Waverley is also well delineated. Like an old married couple, they ‘fight all the time, but don’t have sex.’ Nevertheless, she and Starke are still able to melt our hearts.
Jessica Daley as Betty is a prodigious talent. Her singing voice is smooth as caramel; deep, mellifluous, and expressive, especially in ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me.’ Monique Young also shines. In the big-ticket company numbers, she lends Judy a zest for life and vivacity that leaves us rooting for her character to get her happy ending.
The set design by Michael Taylor is creative and makes use of neon signs advertising amongst others, the Park Sheraton Hotel, Camels, and Capitol Theatres. These add a welcome pop of colour and a period feel to the production that complements the colour palette of the costumes. Props and stage furniture are wheeled on and off, but I am somewhat distracted by characters struggling to put brakes on or grappling to move unwieldy stage furniture. This may seem a minor niggle, but it breaks the magic on several occasions.
Wallace and Betty sing that ‘love and the weather can’t be depended upon,’ but you can bet your bottom dollar that this production can. White Christmas will give you all the ‘festive feels.’ Just sit back and revel in a band pulling out all the stops to fill the auditorium with a glorious sound, doing full justice to Irving Berlin’s timeless score.
Moreover, if you are seated in the stalls, your very own magical ‘white Christmas’ might just come early this year.
Meanwhile, I am now off to find my trusty DVD.
May your Christmas 2022 be merry and bright!
Age Guidance 8+
Running Time: 2 hours and 5 mins (including 20 min interval)