How I ran to the man when his hand swayed”
How else would you start December but with two theatrical productions of White Christmas in quick succession… But where London has a more predictable, traditional take on the hoary old classic with the well-established touring production faithfully replicated, Leeds has a reimagined and reinvigorated version which makes it altogether a more intriguing proposition in the hands of esteemed director Nikolai Foster (whose forthcoming artistic directorship of the Curve in Leicester looks to be most promising indeed) (PS he’s no relation).
I left the Dominion Theatre in London quite well inclined to the show as it does tick all the boxes, perhaps in a somewhat perfunctory manner but with dollops of old-school charm. But freed from those constrictions, Foster is able to give us a fresh new take which is retro rather than old-fashioned, taking its cues from 50s Americana in Matthew Wright’s glorious revolving design. And with arrangements refreshed with a real musical intimacy and integrity by orchestrator Jason Carr and choreography revitalised by Nick Winston, this is a creative team firing on all cylinders.
And delivering the fruits of their labour is a cracking cast who bring an unexpected depth to the we-gotta-put-on-a-show story. The root of Darren Day and Oliver Tompsett’s relationship as Hollywood stars is firmly in their shared past as WWII veterans and Emma Williams and Holly Dale Spencer, as the Haynes sisters for whom they fall on their Vermont holiday, perfectly capture the contemporary sensuality which is just irresistible. And so as Bob and Phil and Betty and Judy sing and dance their way to saving the day, their combined chemistry ensures a real investment in the show (even as it stretches out just a tad too long) especially in Williams and Spencer’s heartwarmingly lovely performances.
There’s great support from the rest of the talented company too – Melanie La Barrie darn well nearly steals another musical (after a barnstorming turn in Guys and Dolls – seriously, when is someone going to put this woman front and centre in a show?!) with a show-stopping rendition of ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy’, Siôn Tudor Owen’s Ezekiel Foster (no relation to Nikolai, or me for that matter) and Andrew Jarvis’ General Waverly both light up the stage in their own way, and the cumulative effect of everyone’s enthusiasm more than fills the vast auditorium as the long-awaited comes to pass as it surely must do. London 0 Leeds 1 by my count.