Irving Berlin, White Christmas: Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 3.12.2013. (SRT)
Bob Wallace – Steven Houghton
Phil Davis – Paul Robinson
Betty Haynes – Rachel Stanley
Judy Haynes – Jayde Westaby
General Henry Waverly – Graham Cole
Martha Watson – Wendi Peters
Original Production – Walter Bobbie
UK Production director – David Morgan
Choreographer – Randy Skinner
Set design – Anna Louzios
All the ingredients were in place to make tonight a real success: beautiful sets, fine performances, more razzmatazz than you could shake a sprig of holly at and, of course, one of the most popular scores from one of Hollywood’s very finest composers.
So I’m genuinely puzzled as to why I didn’t love it more than I did. I adore those musicals from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and Irving Berlin writes snappy tunes as well as anyone. It’s a feel-good story about love and friendship, and the quality of the production was exceptionally high. Yet I never really engaged with it in the way I was hoping to. My head was telling me all the reasons why it was so good, but my heart kept me one step removed nearly all the way through.
It certainly wasn’t because of the performances, all of which fitted the bill just right. Steven Houghton and Paul Robinson did a good line in mateship as the two friends who put on a show to save their old army general’s failing hotel, and Robinson did a very impressive line in tap dancing. So did Jayde Westaby who, with Rachel Stanley, played the sisters with just the right amount of character and barb when necessary. Graham Cole played the general with his tongue firmly in cheek and, while I didn’t warm to Wendi Peters’ character, I could see that she was playing her part very well.
Nor was it the production, which was super. The sets were all beautifully realised, and I loved the way the forward curtain (of snowflakes, of course) would peel back certain parts sections to reveal the stage for the smaller scenes. The dancing was also very impressive, and the big numbers at the end of both acts and, especially, at the beginning of the second, were tremendous.
I think I just found the whole thing a bit too candy-floss light. All the greatest musicals have a palpable vein of darkness running through them (that’s one of the things I loved about Fiddler on the Roof) but nothing here seemed to raise the dramatic temperature too high or to suggest much danger. Maybe I’m just too cynical. Most people who go to see White Christmas this holiday will go for all the things it’s offering: a light-as-a-feather story which will appeal to all the family, a beautiful production, strong musical performances and a score that feels like a warm bath of all-American nostalgia. They won’t be disappointed.