Irving Berlin’s White Christmas Review | Palace Theatre | Manchester
There’s nothing but blue skies ahead as the holiday classic White Christmas hits the Palace Theatre, adorning the stage with old school glamour, phenomenal costumes and whimsical sets.
Offering audiences an early Christmas gift, the story opens with a reserved Bing Crosby rendition of the title’s classic sung by Matthew Jeans (playing Bob Wallace). With a war-torn backdrop alongside its troupe of American soldiers celebrating Christmas Eve in 1944, White Christmas depicts the lives of two ex-sergeants 10 years after the war.
Having teamed up to become a musical double act, the comical Phil Davis (Dan Burton) and the cynical Wallace appear practically married as Davis pushes his friend into finding love outside of his work. Fortunately, the pair just so happen to learn of a female duo with an impressive novelty act of their own. So, expect a musical love fest around friendship, misunderstandings and 50’s nostalgia as this holiday production turns one of the most popular songs ever recorded into a skilfully sentimental tribute to the army.
Burton and Wallace bring the momentum to this musical with a gymnastic take on its demanding choreography, singing and Christmas cracker joke-telling. The swift-moving performances alongside the shows enormous ensemble cast brings beautiful synchronicity and masses of energy to the musical. While composer Irving Berlin brings his beautiful ballad White Christmas to the forefront, the majority of the jukebox musicals tracks play as a vehicle to showcase Wallace and Davis or sisters Betty (Jessica Daley) and Judy Haynes’ (Emily Langham) variety acts. As a result, the Palace theatres audience are served an assortment of cheesy comedy, feathered fan choreography and tap dance tributes that have nothing to do with Christmas.
Director Nikolai Foster scales back the showy sets to deal with the story’s sincere elements with a dose of minimalist realism but its musical acts are spectacular. With stunning props and snatched dialogue, the play punches up its dance numbers with dreamlike environments, dramatic lighting and extravagant routines. Only through the song, The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing, does its coupling cast dissolve out of their conversation to break out into song and dance for a flat out, full-blown musical number about their emotions. It is a sweet and implausible moment that quickly gets back-peddled down to a bickering earth, where the majority of the shows routines are played straight to the Palace Theatre audience.
This production premiered in 2000 and like the 1954 film it was adapted from, harks back to an old-fashioned cabaret that at its best presents sharp comical timing and precise dance numbers from its immense supporting cast. While its film, at its worst, will make audiences cringe at the thought of romanticising a good old-fashioned minstrel show, the live adaptation is a class act from start to finish. Injecting additional songs, live orchestration and adjusting the tracks for modern audience members, the minor revisions made ensure that the shows story remains romantically faithful despite a 46-year gap from film to stage.
White Christmas has too many positive nostalgia points to make you overlook its vintage flaws so count your blessings and consider yourself a guineapig to the most Christmassy show in town. With a guarantee for Snow in Manchester, the production serves up scenes like a picture-perfect Christmas card with Stephen Mear’s scenic choreography allowing its dancers to pause for effect. Ultimately, alongside its down-to-earth story, the narrative is honestly a sweet-tempered tribute to all the people who served in the military, mixed with a traditional love story.