Review – White Christmas

December 7, 2013 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆   Warm and glitzy

Festival Theatre: Fri 29 Nov 2013 – Sat 4 Jan 2014
Review by Hugh Simpson

Cheerful, tuneful and heartwarming, Irving Berlin’s White Christmas at the Festival Theatre is an ideal Christmas treat.

The Theatre Royal Plymouth’s production is based on the celebrated 1954 film, which tells the story of Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, two old US army buddies turned Broadway stars.

I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas – ensemble. Pic: Pako Mera

They attempt to help out their old commanding officer General Waverly while coping with romantic misunderstandings involving the singing Haynes sisters.

It is not, in all honesty, the world’s most robust narrative. This version, with a libretto by David Ives and Paul Blake, sticks fairly closely to the original, with a couple of omissions and small changes – which, if anything, make the story and the characters’ motivations even flimsier.

The showbiz setting, however, means that musical numbers that fail to advance the plot can be excused because singing and dancing are just what the characters do.

If song and dance are what you want you will not be disappointed. It would be a joyless heart that was not moved by routines such as the magnificent tapdancing in I Love A Piano. The addition of songs from elsewhere in the Berlin canon, notably the beautiful How Deep Is The Ocean, also benefits the show considerably.

an abundance of elegance

The real stars here are the huge ensemble, backed by an equally large and distinguished orchestra led by Andrew Corcoran. Randy Skinner’s choreography in numbers such as Blue Skies gives all of the dancers a chance to shine individually and collectively. There is such an abundance of elegance on display, added to oodles of panache and buckets of pizzazz, that you cannot help being bowled over.

Jayde Westaby (Judy Haynes) and Paul Robinson (Phil Davis). Pic: Pako Mera

Steven Houghton and Paul Robinson, as Bob and Phil, do not completely convince – either as inseparable buddies or as a starry Broadway double act, but it is always difficult to be compared to Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. Nevertheless, they both discharge their duties skilfully, with Robinson displaying particularly infectious glee in his accomplished duets with Jayde Westaby as Judy Haynes.

Warm, great fun and only to be scorned by inveterate killjoys

Houghton and Rachel Stanley, as Betty Haynes, do not always seem to have the necessary chemistry to make the big love story truly come alive. Real emotional impact comes from others, such as Graham Cole, who effectively conveys General Waverly’s wounded dignity, or Wendi Peters, who combines humour and pathos as receptionist Martha, as well as possessing a suitably huge voice and presence.

Young Rachel McKay is excellent as the General’s granddaughter Susan, while Phil Cole’s comic cameo as Zeke is particularly pleasing. Production values are extremely high; the inventive set, suitably loud costumes and appropriately sculpted hair and wigs all enhance the spectacle.

Overall, it is not the most profound show you will ever see. It might be possible to draw conclusions about the treatment of ex-service personnel, but that would be stretching things a little, while the messages about needing to be reunited with important people at Christmas are hardly new – and undermined somewhat by the most overtly festive parts of the show being possibly the least successful.

However, it would be churlish to criticise any element of the production too harshly when the combination of Irving Berlin’s music and those fantastic routines make the whole thing like a patterned Christmas jumper – warm, great fun and only to be scorned by inveterate killjoys.

Running time 2 hrs 35 mins including interval
Run ends Saturday 4 January 2014
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinees Thurs and Sat 2.30 pm
Festival Theatre, 13/29 Nicolson Street EH8 9FT
Tickets from www.edtheatres.com

ENDS

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