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WHITE CHRISTMAS – Dominion Theatre, London.

white christmasReinvented musical classics that are reimagined for the stage often come tinged with an air of trepidation. How will it work with a live audience? Will it live up to the much-loved film? The original stage adaptation of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was written by David Ives and Paul Blake first opened back in 2006 and happily, 8 years on, with its West End début directed by Morgan Young, it’s in very good shape.

White Christmas follows the story of two young war veterans who pursue a career in entertainment in the 50’s, and encounter two sisters who are also in the business, which leads to the inevitable; love, loss and misunderstandings. The rousingly well-known songs in White Christmas are performed beautifully by the 17-piece orchestra, with a longer than expected overture that deserves a round of applause on its own merit.

Whilst on the subject of the music, there are some lovely adapted scenes that feature stunning harmonies from the entire ensemble cast. Vocals are at their most impressive in this show when the cast are singing together; the train scene featuring the song ‘Snow’ is the perfect example of how to change the original track without destroying it, and actually enhancing its impact.

Key to White Christmas is the dancing, and this is where Tom Chambers excels. Presumably, he has been drafted into this cast (the other three principal cast members have played their roles previously on tour) to provide the toe-tapping talent, and that he does well. There are several lengthy dance breaks that enable Chambers to show off his skills with some very complex choreography, particularly during his duet with the accomplished Louise Bowden in ‘I Love a Piano, which came down to rapturous applause.

Whilst Chambers handles the vocals adequately, Aled Jones bellows every note deeply, powerfully, and is utterly scintillating. Despite some lapses in accent, his acting chops are convincing and show he is a far cry from his ‘Walking in the Air’ persona which is one, I would guess, he will never shake. Jones and Chambers work well together as a partnership and nicely echo the roles of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in the film; Jones as the slightly reserved belter, and Chambers as the cheeky light-footed chappy.

There are some interesting plot changes that differ to the film; building up the role of the matriarchal Martha Watson character by making her more prominent and comedic works well, and Wendi Peters is an inspired choice. Not only does she bolshily handle the comedy with ease and flair, she has an impressive vocal belt that one may not expect, particularly if you’ve only ever seen her in Coronation Street, for which she is most famously known. I fear that without her presence, some of the scenes would fall flat.

Act 1 supports the majority of the narrative, which makes it far more engaging than Act 2, which does edge towards being too saccharine, even for the most ardent Christmas fan. That being said, Act 2 features some of the strongest musical numbers so it’s not devoid of thrills, it just moves at a slower pace. What is missing from the opening scenes is the establishing of the fact that these two very different young men were brought together by the young Private Davis (Chambers) saving the life of the older Corporal Wallace (Jones). This is emphasised in the film heavily and whilst I’m not here to compare film and stage, this key fact is what binds them as friends and I have always thought this to be integral to understanding their partnership. Omitting this means that an opportunity is lost to add some dimension to their characters.

Considering the short 8-week run, Anna Louizos hasn’t held back on set design with some impactful effects and very swift scene changes which must involve some complex mechanisms. The use of a miniature baby grand piano during one of the musical numbers was a particularly charming addition.

Ultimately, White Christmas does what is says on the tin. It offers a heart-warming story and buckets of festive cheer, with a cast that excel, entertain, and envelope you in a swath of Christmas magic…and a sprinkle of (fake) snow to boot.

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Reviewed 13/11/14

By Caroline Cronin

8th Nov – 3rd Jan 2014
Dominion Theatre, London, W1.

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