November and December are my favourite months of the year. I love the crisp mornings, cosy evenings and making the most of the countdown to Christmas. This week the festive season is starting in Canterbury with the switching on of the Christmas lights and the arrival of White Christmas at The Marlowe Theatre. With performances running until 20th November, the UK tour of White Christmas is here in Kent just ahead of pantomime season and what a wonderful musical to kick start the 2021 festivities with.
As the name suggests, White Christmas is an adaptation of Irving Berlin’s popular movie set in post-war 1950s America. Despite being a huge fan of Hollywood golden age movies and seeing White Christmas on the festive TV schedule every year for as long as I can remember, I hadn’t actually seen the 1954 film ahead of the musical’s arrival here in Canterbury. When a press night invitation for the stage version dropped into my inbox last week, not having watched the movie made the prospect of seeing the theatrical adaptation all the more exciting. I couldn’t wait for an evening of top-class singing and dancing at the Marlowe, inspired by the Hollywood greats. I headed to the Marlowe with my friend on Wednesday evening, ready for White Christmas’ opening night here in Canterbury.
White Christmas centres on musically-gifted war veterans Bob Wallace and Phil Davis and their lives during the immediate aftermath of the second world war. They have turned to show business and are touring their musical revue across America. With plans to head to the Sunshine State for Christmas, everything changes when an ex-army colleague allegedly asks the pair to go and watch his sisters’ musical double act. The Haynes sisters are a hit with the duo, but unlike Judy and Phil who have an instant attraction to each other, Bob and Betty’s personalities clash on their first meeting. Miami is soon a distant memory as Phil and Judy hatch a plan for Bob and Phil to join the ladies in Vermont over Christmas.
On arrival in Vermont, Bob and Phil find out that the inn where they will be performing is owned by the old general from their war days. The inn is in financial ruin and the duo agree to help save the inn by performing their new musical revue in one of the barns over the holidays. Joined by the Haynes sisters and their revue chorus line, the duo attempt to put on a broadway-style show in Vermont, helping their ex-general get his business back on track.
During rehearsals, Bob and Betty’s attitudes towards each other change, but after a complex misunderstanding will they reconcile in time for Christmas? Judy also becomes frustrated with Phil’s flirting habits towards some of the chorus line members. Is their romance going to make it past the revue rehearsals? The cast’s valiant efforts all lead to the production’s climax: the Christmas Eve performance of the musical revue, which also happens to be when the parallel love stories come to a close. White Christmas is a joyous festive story covering loyalty, love and friendship, set against the backdrop of beautiful Vermont during the festive period.
White Christmas’ score was written by musical legend Irving Berlin and from beginning to end, the songs were just wonderful. From the joyful opener ‘Happy Holiday’ to the smooth ‘Blue Skies’, every track brought the classic swing and big band sound that the era is known for. This genre also really lends itself to the Christmas theme and the dreamy finale renditions of the title track and ‘I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm’ were pure festive magic.
Years ago I saw Singin’ in the Rain in London and the dancing was tremendous. I actually mentioned to my friend during the interval that I thought White Christmas had a similar vibe to this classic production. It makes sense as the movies were released only a couple of years apart. The dancing really transported me back to the golden age of Hollywood. The routines were magical and full of old-school musical theatre charm, something that I haven’t seen on stage for a long time. The tap dancing at the start of act two was a highlight for me, with every move and sound that the ensemble made being so in sync.
Bringing the spirit of Vermont to Canterbury
The rooftop of the Vermont barn was on stage throughout the entire production and this simple staging combined with the fun comments about life in the Northern US state throughout the script, really helped bring the spirit of New England to Canterbury. The caretaker character Ezekiel Foster was hilarious, making brief appearances between scenes in his plaid shirt and being little help to the cast of the musical revue.
Standout cast performances
Matthew Jeans takes on the principal role of Bob Wallace in the UK tour and Jessica Daley plays his love interest Betty Haynes. Their vocals in the slow duet ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me / How Deep Is The Ocean’ gave me goosebumps. White Christmas has a lot of fast-paced, energetic songs and this stripped back number was a real contrast to the rest of the score, highlighting the duo’s musical talent.
I also thought supporting characters Judy Haynes (Emily Langham) and Phil Davis (Dan Burton) had such brilliant chemistry. From their moonlit dance track ‘The Best Things Happen Whilst You’re Dancing’ to the constant humorous chatter surrounding Phil’s flirting in the barn, they bounced off each other really well on stage.
A festive celebration of music and dance
As you can probably tell from this glowing review, I absolutely adored White Christmas. It’s a wonderful feel-good musical set against the silhouette of alpine Vermont at Christmas time, complete with memorable characters and iconic swing tunes. Seeing White Christmas live on stage has really got me into the festive spirit. On the way out of the theatre my friend and I both said how Christmassy we felt post-show. After last year’s very different Christmas, if you’re looking to start the festivities early in 2021, I can’t recommend a trip to see White Christmas enough. The production is playing at The Marlowe Theatre until a week on Saturday and with such a talented ensemble, you are in for a real treat*.
Thanks for reading my blog today.
Love Kat xxxx
*Our tickets and programme for White Christmas were gifted in exchange for a review of the performance.