Based on the much-loved 1954 festive film, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical premiered in 2000 at the 11,000 capacity amphitheatre The Muny in St Louis. Featuring a book by David Ives and Paul Blake the musical is a celebration of Irving Berlin’s songbook and it’s ear-worm title song White Christmas. Featuring choreography from renowned Broadway choreographer Randy Skinner, after a US National Tour in 2004, the show played limited Broadway engagements at the Marquis Theatre for the Christmas seasons of 2008-2010 and has been touring the US at Christmastime every year since. It wasn’t long before White Christmas The Musical jumped over the pond and toured the Christmas seasons in the UK from 2006-2011, landing on the West End at the Dominion Theatre in 2014 again featuring Randy Skinner’s original Broadway choreography. Following a sell-out season at the Curve Theatre in Leicester during the festive season of 2018-2019, a new production of White Christmas The Musical featuring choreography by two-time Olivier Award-winning Stephen Mear and direction from acclaimed Nikolai Foster returns to the Dominion Theatre for a limited engagement this Christmas.
This new production’s starry cast includes Danny Mac (Sunset Boulevard, Strictly Come Dancing Finalist) as Bob Wallace and Olivier-nominated Dan Burton (Gypsy, Singin’ in the Rain) as Phil Davis, alongside Danielle Hope (BBC’s Over The Rainbow Winner) as Betty Haynes, Clare Halse (Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street) as Judy Haynes, Brenda Edwards (We Will Rock You, Chicago, ITV’s Loose Women) as Martha Watson and Olivier Award-nominated Michael Brandon (Dempsey and Makepeace, Jerry Springer: The Opera) as General Henry Waverly. As song and dance men Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, Danny Mac and Dan Burton were slick, confident and delivered vocals that were swoon inducing. As Betty Haynes, Danielle Hope performed with aplomb and her beautiful performance of Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me was a highlight of the evening. Clare Halse as Judy Haynes gave a fun, solid performance throughout and Michael Brandon gave an affecting performance as somewhat of a lost soul in General Henry Waverly. As Martha Watson, Brenda Edwards shone throughout and her fun number Let Me Sing And I’m Happy received a well deserved round of applause towards the end of Act One. However, the real star of this production lies in the new thrilling choreography created by Stephen Mear. Encompassing many dance styles, his steps fit the tone, setting and time of the piece perfectly and the extremely talented cast perform with flare.
Although some attempts were made to update the piece; towards the end of the show a gay kiss was featured (however it came from two unnamed ensemble characters that didn’t have their own storyline), other parts were left unaffected including a cringeworthy moment where Betty discovers she’s made a mistake but then asks a man in a position of power explain it to her. Why attempt to update any of it without playing a knowing wink to the audience throughout so we can laugh at the simple plot and characters elevating it beyond the America of 1954 in which the film was written? Instead, the show plays an innocent and nostalgic which only heightens how thin and outdated the characters and plot truly are. While Michael Taylor’s design, Diego Pitarch’s costumes and Mear’s choreography make Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical a sparkly Christmas extravaganza; a vapid script, stereotypical characters and weak plot fail to make this adaptation of the holiday favourite radiate any type of festive feeling.
Currently playing at the Dominion Theatre, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas The Musical is a visual feast with fun performances and an extremely talented cast. If you love the original film or are already in the Christmas spirit, grab a mince pie, glass of mulled wine from the bar and settle into some well-intending festive frivolous fun.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Johan Persson
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