Monday, December 22, 2014


This year it has somehow fallen that there are 7 shows booked up until the end of the year which is all rather exciting.  It can't be all opening presents then lying asleep on the couch while Brenda rabbits away on the tv about what she and the family have been up to in the past year.  So let's kick off the theatrical Xmas season with the underwhelming WHITE CHRISTMAS at the Dominion.

Now the Dominion is a hard barn to warm up, to be honest I have never seen a show that has successfully managed to make it feel like a welcoming auditorium and it certainly wasn't the case with this import from Plymouth.

It was played with all the galvanising energy of an understudy call.  At times it felt like I was just watching people going about their work that they know they will get paid for; a theatrical equivalent of watching train cleaners.

I can't say I hated it as there was nothing really to hate, it was so inoffensive and anodyne.  While looking at the actors going about their business my mind wandered to the film of WHITE CHRISTMAS and started musing that it was directed by Michael Curtiz who also directed CASABLANCA.

Now I put it to you that these two films which enjoy huge popularity to this day were never meant to be the 'classic' films that they are viewed as now.  They were films that exemplified the Hollywood films of the period, vehicles for star performers who didn't portray characters so much as give a new version of their established screen persona - Curtiz also did this with Joan Crawford in her Oscar-winning role of MILDRED PIERCE.  So Crawford is the career woman who suffers in fur, Bogart is the bruised cynic, Ingrid Bergman is loving and noble, Bing Crosby is easy-going and mellow, Danny Kaye is zany but non-threatening etc.

The trouble is that in adapting WHITE CHRISTMAS for the stage you need to make it a star vehicle for actors who are larger-than-life and who can make you forget the original.  Ladies and gentleman I give you Tom Chambers and Aled Jones, both as charismatic as kapok.

Okay I will admit that Chambers has an easy charm and puts the dancing skills he won STRICTLY COME DANCING with to good use but he simply cannot project a personality into the vast auditorium.  He had a success with TOP HAT but that was in the smaller Aldwych theatre.  I will equally admit that Aled Jones has a good singing voice but that's all he has, he wandered through the proceedings like a brow-beaten husband allowed out for an evening.

Rachel Stanley and Louise Bowden played Betty and Judy, the Haynes Sisters, with an interchangeable stridency totally at odds with their leading men.  Both were teeth-gridingly awful.  Stanley in particular is heart-freezing and for some reason her big torch number in Act 2 "Love, You Didn't Do Right For Me", so memorably sung by Rosemary Clooney in the film, is here transformed into a diva moment aka Streisand singing "My Man" at the end of FUNNY GIRL.

Matching her in over-the-top belting is Wendi Peters who plays the hotel housekeeper Martha who - well, surprise surprise - reveals a past as a former Broadway performer.  This gives her carte blanche to perform all her numbers as an ersatz Ethel Merman and rather than galvanising, she simply made herself more kickable.

The rest of the cast perform their roles with various shades of anonymity.

What was particularly annoying was the choice to make the dance numbers so long that they outstayed their welcome.  Now I love a tap routine like any other show queen but the interpolated number "I Love A Piano" went on ad infinitum with repeated tap riffs which lost the song's original shape completely.  But Tom Chambers did tap on STRICTLY so there it was...

Oh and another thing... re-christening it IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS has seemingly given them the right to cram it with other Berlin songs not in the film which only prolongs the pain.  I hope Stephen Sondheim has it stipulated in his will that future productions of his work will not allow "Send In The Clowns" to be stuck into INTO THE WOODS or "Losing My Mind" into SWEENEY TODD.

So IRVING BERLIN'S WHITE CHRISTMAS, meet CHRIS VOISEY'S BLACK MOOD.  I am sure some people will point out that the capacity audience all had a whale of a time but I suspect they would have had equally as good a time watching the Christmas lights up and down Tottenham Court Road.

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