Writer: Norman Krasna, Norman Panama and Melvin Frank
Music and lyrics: Irving Berlin
Book: David Ives and Paul Blake
Director: Nikolai Foster
Choreographer: Nick Winston
Musical Director: Tom Kelly
Reviewer: Audrey Pointer
The West Yorkshire Playhouse has brought a new version of an old classic to Leeds this Christmas. Famously made into a 1954 film starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, White Christmas is perhaps Irving Berlin’s most famous score. The film is a staple of the Christmas TV schedules, featuring a hit title song that has sold over 100 million records. This fresh production has all the familiarity of the well-known musical numbers with new arrangements by Leeds born orchestrator Jason Carr.
After World War II, ex-army buddies Bob Wallace (Darren Day) and Phil Davis (Oliver Tompsett) become a musical act and then theatrical producers. Phil’s manoeuvrings to get his chum to find a girlfriend lead to thepairtaking a holiday at Pine Tree Ski Lodge, Vermont. However, a coincidence related to their former army days means that this will be anything but a holiday.
Matthew Wright’s set is impressive, bringing to life a variety of locations such as a nightclub, barn, train carriage, TV studio and the ski lodge reception area. Innovative use of props and furniture, on a floor space which makes excellent use of a revolving stage, is used to evoke feelings of a fairground carousel, keeps the action frenetic and ever changing.
Wright also excels in the costume design of this piece. His vintage colours and textures add authenticity and the gorgeous gaudiness of the showbiz outfits are simply delightful; from burlesque fans to spangled waistcoats and shimmery frocks, culminating in the vintage Christmassy themed finale.
The huge ensemble of performers work their toe-tapping dance shoes off from start to finish. Under the capable direction of Nikolai Foster (who directed WYP’s Annie in 2011) and West End choreographer Nick Winston, this wonderful cast create an explosion of energy.
The main cast are joined by a young company who play soldiers and wives. Talented youngster Gaia Ottman captivates the audience as granddaughter Susan Waverley with her feisty comic timing, and confident solo song and dance routines. Darren Day is the most well-known name in the show and does not disappoint, while Oliver Tompsett dazzles with his slick footwork and dance moves. The fullcast of White Christmas perform to an incredibly high standard, eachdisplaying equal star qualities. Solo and duet performances from the two Haynes sisters, Betty (Emma Williams) and Judy (Holly Dale Spencer) are adept and accomplished and the solo song and dance number ‘I’m Happy’ by Melanie La Barrie (as concierge Martha Watson) is a megawatt of a hit with the audience, while another comic crowd-pleaser is Siôn Tudor Owen as Ezekiel.
An additional treat is the six-piece band situated upstage, bringing a beautiful live acoustic sound to the extravaganza which fits the era perfectly.
Altogether, the West Yorkshire Playhouse production of White Christmas is a joyous and sumptuous piece of theatre, and is just what’s needed to banish those winter blues. There is so much to like in this feel-good festive feast. Unmissable this Christmas.
Runs until: 17 January 2015