Irving Berlin musical ‘White Christmas’ hits all the right notes

Irving Berlin musical ‘White Christmas’ hits all the right notes

Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse

 

The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of jukebox musical White Christmas, featuring the songs of Irving Berlin, has extended its run due to popular demand, proving that tried and tested formulas are still around for a reason.

Even for those unfamiliar with the 1954 film on which the show is based, it’s not difficult to anticipate how the plot of White Christmas will unfold. It’s the story of song and dance duo Bob Wallis and Phil Davis (Darren Day and Oliver Tompsett respectively), who at the start of the show are bringing a glimmer of Christmas cheer to the troops of WWII. One scene and a couple of Christmases later they are headlining the Ed Sullivan show. The boys are looking for a sister act to add feminine allure to their regular set. They get a tip from an old army buddy telling them to see his sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes. As soon as the two acts’ dressing rooms are juxtaposed on the glitzy rotating stage, it’s obvious what’s coming: ladies’ man Phil will hit it off immediately with flirty Judy (Holly Dale Spencer), but his compulsive skirt-chasing will jeopardise their budding romance, whilst belligerent tension brews between older Bob and more cynical Betty (Emma Williams), but we know everyone will be in love and crooning the titular song by Christmas.

And yet, for such an unsurprising diversion, White Christmas hits all the right notes. As with all jukebox musicals, the songs are the real story here, and these are timelessly charming and flawlessly sung throughout. Oliver Tompsett’s second act opener ‘I Love A Piano’ is both a vocal and visual highlight, with a ribbon-like staircase of piano keys providing the platform for a delightful tap sequence, but it’s Darren Day and Emma Williams as the Benedick and Beatrice to Judy and Phil’s Hero and Leander, who get the best numbers. Day’s rendition of ‘Blue Skies’ is no less appealing for appearing almost entirely out of context, and Williams’ rich, satiny voice makes everything she sings completely mesmerising. A plaintive mash-up of ‘How Deep is the Ocean’ and ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me’ sung by the separated couple whilst he watches her go solo on stage is so moving you almost forget it only took a single improbable scene for the pair to move from mutual distaste to true love.

Depth and subtlety are not part of this show’s appeal, but these aren’t the qualities audiences are looking for in a Christmas musical. Nikolai Foster’s production makes good on all of its glittery, heart-warming promises, and the extended run speaks for itself. It would take a true Scrooge not to succumb to this production’s sense of festive fun.

 

Rachel Groocock

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