White Christmas

Dec 19 2021 | By More

★★★★☆   Big and bright

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 14 Dec – Sun 2 Jan
Review by Thom Dibdin

The Curve Theatre’s big touring production of White Christmas brightens the Playhouse stage like a clear sky after a night fall of snow, bringing both warmth and crisp definition in its wake.

Warmth from the familiar romantic plot line of cynical not-so-young things learning to look beyond the angles and the action to find love; and crisp definition in a production which you could freeze frame at any moment and not find a single element out of place.

Matthew Jeans and Dan Burton sing Happy Holiday. Pic: White Christmas.

Based on the 1954 movie of the same name, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, White Christmas has an unfeasibly high quotient of sing-along sentimental songs. Not all as seasonal as that title number, but all battling for the title of tune to hum on the journey home.

The musical shares the plot of the movie, although it manages to lose a lot of the background detail, which makes it a lot lighter on its feet and able to focus on the those big numbers.

Matthew Jeans and Dan Burton make a believably strong double act as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis who form a singing and hoofing double act, singing Happy Holiday for the troops while on active service in Europe in 1944, just before their beloved General Waverly is invalided home.

compassion and inclusivity

It’s a nicely finessed scene which allows the pair to show their potential – without hitting the heights of the later set pieces – and give some depth to roles which are shorn of the movie’s wartime backstory which gave Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye rather more to play with.

Duncan Smith as Waverly sets out the production’s core ideas of compassion and inclusivity of the kind that comes when working together in extreme situations in a nicely judged speech to the assembled troops.

Sisters – Emily Langham and Jessica Daley. Pic: White Christmas.

Ten years later, Christmas 1954, and Wallis and Davis are successful producers and performers with a regular spot on TV. Burton has a glad eye and a quick manner about him as the sweet-talking Phil, while Jeans has that serious demeanour of one who just wants to get on with the show as Bob.

Indeed they are all set to rehearse their new show in the Florida sun were it not for the Singing Haynes Sisters, who derail their plans, ending up with Phil getting new tickets for the train to supposedly snowy Vermont.

Jessica Daley and Emily Langham excel as the Haynes Sisters. Daley has a gorgeously warm set of pipes on her as Betty and her duet with Bob, Love and the Weather is a brilliantly staged piece as it switches between them while they separately get ready for their evening – as yet unaware of each other.

Emily Langham can hold a tune as Judy Haynes, but her forte is more in the hoofing department. However there is no apparent difference in ability as they set about the fan dance, semi-seduction of the watching Phil and Bob in Sisters.

the numbers drive the plot

The joy of the production is the extent to which the numbers drive the plot, thanks to tour director Ian Talbot, working from original director Nikolai Foster’s blueprint. Sisters, for example, allows you to see everything you need to know about internal relationships of the two duos, the differences which define their success, which will also serve to drive the rest of the production.

The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing – Dan Burton and Emily Langham. Pic: White Christmas.

And as a classic musical it isn’t averse to shooting off into fantasy sequences like Phil and Judy’s The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing. Talbot with choreographer Stephen Mear ensures that no matter how fantastical the scene might be, the telling is still clear.

Off to Vermont where the snow has failed and – surprise – the resort hotel is run by Waverly. Of course it is on its uppers, despite the best efforts of Sally Ann Triplett as hotel manager Martha Watson, who also can’t admit to herself how much she is in love with the General.

Cue the arrival of the boys’ production company – considerable misunderstanding about Bob’s motives and some full-on outrageous song and dance sequences in the hotel barn – and of course the brilliant tap routine of I Love A Piano, which would be a show-stopper if it weren’t the second act opener.

a joy to watch

The whole thing is a joy to watch, with outrageously good performances all the way through the company from solo turns by the scene-stealing Triplett and Ella Kemp as Susan Waverly, right though to the big ensemble numbers where there is an engagingly organic feel to the whole presentation.

The lightly pushed idealism of Phil and Bob’s comrades-in-arms support for Waverly is just enough to offset the sentimentality of the rest of the plot and ensure that this is one big festive treat of a show that will have you bouncing down the street, no matter which tune you decide to hum on the way home.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA. Phone booking: 0844 871 3014.
Tue 14 Dec 2021 – Sun 2 Jan 2022
Evening shows: 7.30pm; Matinees: 2.30pm; Suns & Xmas Eve: 1pm & 5pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

I Love A Piano. Pic: White Christmas.


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