White Christmas (Dominion Theatre)
Seasonal fare as an old favourite adds to the bright lights of Oxford Street
As Irving Berlin understood better than anyone, there's no business like yuletide show business. What the Jewish-born songwriter didn't know about the American Christmas wasn't worth knowing; yet there's no shred of cynicism in the feelgood musical he and Hollywood built around his most popular song, "White Christmas", which first appeared in the wartime movie Holiday Inn.
Although the number is indelibly identified with Bing Crosby, the 1954 film White Christmas was an ensemble confection that also featured Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney among others. Laden with great routines and good humour, it had what this stage adaptation signally lacks, and that's lightness of touch.
Morgan Young's extravagant recreation of Walter Bobbie's US production has been doing the rounds of the regions since 2006 but this is its first spell in the West End. It has everything going for it: Randy Skinner's feisty choreography, superb costumes by Cathie Robbins (think fur hoods and red-and-white jumpers) and a succession of quick-change sets designed by Anna Louizos that never stint on spectacle. Best of all, it boasts an 18-piece pit band under Andrew Corcoran that could give the John Wilson Orchestra a run for its money.
But the decision to treat White Christmas like a panto does it no favours. Dialogue is delivered with all the subtlety of a steamroller, leaving the book by David Ives and Paul Blake flattened in its wake, and the sheer relentlessness of the staging smacks of desperation - as though the creative team lacked faith in the material when all they needed to do was trust it. It's fluff, but it's good fluff.
TV celebrity can account for some of the casting, which is OK as most of them prove to be pretty handy. A lot depends on the two male stars with Aled Jones cast as Bing Crosby (if you see what I mean) and Tom Chambers in the Danny Kaye part. Both are good - Jones exudes all-American decency and charm, Chambers hoofs like a trooper and there's a fine bromance going on between them - but thanks to the production's lack of subtlety neither manages to put much of a stamp on his character.
Jones may not win Strictly any day soon but his sincerity in the evening's only reflective scene, "Count Your Blessings", showcases his vocal class and gives a sense of what he might achieve in a more human-sized production.
Rachel Stanley and Louise Bowden are, and sing, the Irving Berlin "Sisters" who become romantically entangled with the pair. Graham Cole has to pedal through maple syrup as the military curmudgeon with a heart of gold - stereotypical yet undercharacterised - but Wendi Peters grabs her Ethel Merman makeover and belts seven bells out of it. What a gal.