White Christmas (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

Darren Day takes on the unenviable task of filling Bing Crosby’s shoes in Nikolai Foster’s version of the Irving Berlin classic

Yorkshire’s White Rose meets New York’s Great White Way, as Irving Berlin‘s classic musical brings an avalanche of festive cheer to Leeds this Christmas. With its Broadway-style glitz, excellent staging and talent-packed cast, White Christmas is the perfect way to celebrate this season of good cheer with extra pizazz.

Darren day (Bob Wallace) and White Christmas company
Darren day (Bob Wallace) and White Christmas company
© Manuel Harlan

The story tells of two American GIs, Bob Wallace (Darren Day) and Phil Davis (Oliver Tompsett) who, following their return from WWII, hit the big time as a hugely popular song ‘n dance duo. Planning a series of festive shows in sun-bathed Miami, the men get distracted by a pair of crooning sisters (Holly Dale Spencer and Emma Williams) seeking their big break and the four of them end up putting on a show in a barn at a Vermont inn run by their beloved former CO, General Henry Waverly (Andrew Jarvis). Throw in a bit of romance, some dramatic tension and a misunderstanding or two and there you have it…

Of course, as anyone who’s ever watched an early stage or screen musical knows, the story is really just an excuse to get a bunch of great performers to whizz through a whole host of musical numbers, and White Christmas‘ ‘let’s put on the show right here!’ plot is no exception. Luckily, when you’ve got the great Irving Berlin supplying the tunes, you really don’t need a weighty and multi-layered plot to give your audience a thoroughly entertaining and satisfying theatre experience.

Most of us are familiar with the title track, famously crooned by Bing Crosby in the film version, but White Christmas includes plenty of other Berlin standards, including Sisters, Blue Skies and I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm. All are performed here with great style and wonderfully staged by choreographer Nick Winston; each offering up its own ‘wow’ factor. Personal standouts included I Love a Piano and the whimsical, Snow.

It’s become standard procedure at this point to heap praise on the use of the space available within the West Yorkshire Playhouse and indeed, the Quarry Stage provides ample opportunity to create a wonderful backdrop to the show. Designer, Matthew Wright, has created something lovely to look at as well as suitably versatile for the performers to use. However, on this occasion, the functional ‘blank canvas’ aspect of the space did drain a little from the atmosphere generated by the show, which would have benefited from slightly more glamorous surroundings. That being said, the performers bring enough energy and enthusiasm to the proceedings to blow away any minor criticism.

At first glance, Day and Tompsett might look a little too British to pass the test as authentic GIs, but these doubts are quickly dispelled. The two make a neat double act, sparking off each other and bringing to life a friendship and camaraderie forged on the WWII battlefields. As the singing sisters, Judy and Betty Haynes, Spencer and Williams are more than a match for our heroes, in sass as well as musical flair.

Elsewhere, Melanie La Barrie is excellent as Martha, General Waverly’s ‘concierge’ at the inn, who’s no mean performer herself. The rest of the cast fill their multiple roles with great style too, making each number buzz with vitality and extra dashes of humour, such as Samuel Holmes‘s frantic stage manager and Siôn Tudor Owen‘s slovenly and surprising inn handyman.

Overall, director, Nikolai Foster, has done a wonderful job in bringing White Christmas to the Playhouse stage, giving audiences a fun night out filled with colour and joy. The proof of its success is that the nearly three-hour show (including interval) zips by without a single lull. With the centenary of WWI falling this year and conflicts still raging around the world, the military aspect of the show also has some extra resonance at this time of year as people remember those who aren’t here to celebrate.

Despite all of this, however, maybe the best compliment a show can receive is to have the audience on its feet applauding at the end, as was the case on this particular evening.

In short, White Christmas is one show sure to warm the chilly winter nights ahead. And that’snow lie!

White Christmas continues at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 17 January 2015.