Book: David Ives and Paul Blake
Music: Irving Berlin
Director: Ian Talbot OBE
It’s December and the countdown to Christmas is officially on. Christmas tree decorating, advent calendars, mulled wine, quality time (and quality street) with family and friends – it’s a time for making magical memories. And for many, White Christmas, the 1954 film and now show, is a an important part of those festive traditions.
Although not wholly Christmassy, bar the iconic title number and a spectacular surprise in the finale, this production offers real nostalgia and a trip down memory lane for the older generation. It features Irvin Berlin’s music (some numbers definitely more memorable than others) and David Ives’ and Paul Blake’s book within a predictable, yet much loved, plot.
Bob Wallace (The Wanted’s Jay McGuiness) and Phil Davis (former Olivier award nominee Dan Burton) have served in the war and have since become a much-loved performing double act. Their former commander General Henry Waverly (Michael Starke) has run into financial difficulty, his inn is failing, and the two have a fantastic opportunity to help and support him with the help of sisters Betty Haynes (Jessica Daley) and Judy Haynes (Monique Young).
Visually, the show is a spectacle – everything from the lighting, to the costume, to the set design is a treat for the eyes. And without doubt the best thing about the production is the work of choreographer Stephen Mear CBE – it clearly prides itself on its dancing and has McGuiness putting his Strictly Come Dancing history to the test, as was the case with his predecessor in the role Danny Mac. The cast are tight and while it could be evolved even further at times with even more striking formations, the choreography is the highlight.
The leading four – made famous in the film by Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen – do well. McGuiness is watchable but feels very ‘safe’ in his role, not having enough opportunity to really show the extent of his vocal capability, Burton proves himself as a musical theatre triple threat and Young is a lovely Judy. But it’s Daley, who rose to fame when she appeared on the search for Dorothy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Over The Rainbow, that has the most watchability and who takes the numbers she’s given and gives them that extra wow factor. The other ‘big name’ of the show Lorna Loft (daughter of legend Judy Garland) also creates one of the biggest applauses of the evening when she delivers a fabulous rendition of Let Me Sing and I’m Happy.
Between them and the rest of the cast they put on a show that is ‘nice’ but not spectacular. Especially for the younger audience, it isn’t the most exciting plot line and the dialogue at times can become a tad tedious. There are beautiful musical moments, including I Love a Piano and Snow (how they create the train is wonderful) but these are cushioned between less memorable numbers. And while the huge ensemble joining together has the potential to be spine-tingling, it feels like these moments need an extra injection of pazaz to make them have the desired impact. This particular issue was not helped at the Liverpool Empire Theatre opening night, with the opening half being let down by sound level issues. This appeared to be rectified in the second half, ready for the audience to rise to their feet for the big picture-perfect, poster-ready finale moment and it’s got to be said, the much shorter second half, was far more impressive as a result.
While not quite the White Christmas of dreams, it is a visually very beautiful production, which for many – namely those who’ve grown up knowing and loving the piece – will be exactly the treat that’s needed to make their festivities ‘merry and bright’.
Runs until 31 December 2022.