Irving Berlin’s White Christmas truly is a ‘gift-wrapped’ production at the Dominion Theatre this winter. Lavish helpings of sequins, snow, sentimentality and yule-tide magic are sure to ignite some festive cheer in (most) Scrooges! The musical, based on the fabulous 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, tells the story of Bob Wallace and Phil Davis- friends since their service in World War II together. They have since ‘hit the big time’ with their song and dance show. An encounter with the Haynes sisters- during which Phil decides Bob and Betty are perfect for one another- leads Phil into tricking Bob to accompanying the sisters to Vermont for Christmas. Once there, they discover the lodge the sisters will be performing at is actually owned by their old commander from their war days, General Waverly. After a series of misunderstandings, upsets and a heatwave in December, all wrongs are righted, couples are matched, and Christmas is restored.
Tom Chambers (Phil) and Aled Jones (Bob) are a decent pair. Chambers is a highly watchable- it cannot be denied that his dancing is superb, and he has a charm which transfers well. Jones struggles slightly with the accent, which lead to an unfortunate hollowness is his performance. However, his singing is unsurprisingly remarkable, and somewhat compensates for the aforementioned flaw. Rachel Stanley and Louise Bowden as the Haynes sisters make a good double act, although alone Stanley is far stronger, delivering a fine performance in her solo number Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me. It is unfortunate for the leading quartet that the older and the younger members stood out more in their supporting roles in this production- with Sophia Pettit as the granddaughter, Wendi Peters as Martha and Phil Cole as Ezekiel stealing the show for various reasons.
The production is surprisingly lavish and results in a slick, opulent run. Particularly ingenious is the snowflake-adorned front drop, which pops open like windows of advent calendars to reveal scenes and songs contained in rooms and spaces as ‘snapshots’ of the festive season. The orchestra is equally grand, and does a fabulous job of recreating the classic sounds of the era courtesy of Musical Director Andrew Corcoran.
The first half of White Christmas feels exceedingly long and a little tired, although the second act contrasts by being punchy and more upbeat (granted, it may have been a case of press night nerves which waylaid the first half). The stand-out number has to be I Love a Piano, during which the a capella tap section is completely thrilling, allowing choreographer Randy Skinner to really showcase his talent.
If you need a production to get you in the Christmas spirit, then book tickets – the final sing-a-long of White Christmas is sure to warm the cockles. However, White Christmas fails to be consistently outstanding or revolutionary. At times, it left me wanting to rewatch the film…. which will certainly be showing this Christmas at a telly near you!