Review: White Christmas
By Jay Darcy
November is a little early for me to be dreaming of a White Christmas – but I got it, regardless of my wishes.
White Christmas was more than just a wish, though; it was a dream.
Based on the 1954 Irving Berlin film of the same name – which starred Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye – this musical is still growing strong over two decades after it premiered.
With its stunning sets, terrific costumes, and marvellous music, White Christmas is everything you want in a musical. This terrific, tantalising, tap-dancing extravaganza was therapy for restless souls who, after last year’s stolen holiday season, are longing for a Christmas that is fun, familial, wonderful – and white.
As a 22-year-old, poststructural, postcolonial, intersectional feminist, you might expect me to have a general dislike of classic musicals – or those based on classic movies – for being irrelevant.
But whilst White Christmas might be dated, there are themes and issues that remain very relevant.
Whilst I do believe that modern musicals should engage with current issues, I understand how magical it is to be transported to the past – even if “the good old days” were not so good – a time before we were alive, a time before the climate crisis and C-O-V-I-D, etc.
Old musicals tend to present problematic portrayals of women, and whilst there were some issues in this regard with White Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised by some of its female characters.
Most noticeably, Martha Watson was ballsy, sassy, confident and empowered. She was played to be perfection by West End veteran Sally Ann Triplett, who stepped in last minute after Sheila Ferguson (the former lead singer of Three Degrees) left the show.
As a Three Degrees fan, I was disappointed to hear of Ferguson’s departure, but I cannot discredit Triplett. With her superb singing and classic comedic delivery, she captivated the audience.
Her solo song, ‘Let Me Sing and I’m Happy’, was a memorable moment of the show – as was ‘Falling Out of Love Can Be Fun’, which she performed with the sisters.
The sisters, Betty and Judy, were played by Jessica Daley and Emily Langham, respectively. The sisters’ opening number, aptly called ‘Sisters’, was a great introduction to the cabaret-loving characters. With her vivacious vocals, Daley out-sang the rest of the cast. She really got to shine with the ballad ‘Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me’. Lit by two spotlights – one behind her, one in front – she looked like an angel.
Whilst Daley’s singing abilities cannot be faulted, when it comes to acting, Langham had her beat: her characterisation of Judy was brilliant. I feared that she’d be portrayed as your stereotypical (sexist) bitchy, blonde bimbo, but that could not be further from the actuality.
Judy got to shine in the tap-dancing number that opened the second act, ‘I Love a Piano’. It’s a shame that she didn’t get a solo song because this was an ensemble number led by Dan Burton (Phil Davis), one of the main leads.
The scene had to be my second favourite number of the show. As I’ve said before, I love it when the second act opens with a great, big number – to get the audience back into the mood after the interval. Whilst this number could not compete with the one that closed the first act, ‘Blue Skies’, it was a tap-dancing sensation that had the whole audience grinning with glee.
I was expecting a big number by the orchestra’s ‘Entr’acte’ that played when the lights went down – but it was bigger, better and brighter than I had anticipated.
The best number of the show, however, had to be ‘Blue Skies’, which was performed by Bob (Matthew Jeans) – the real male lead – and the ensemble. It was a visual (and aural) delight.
Some other notable numbers are Bob and Phil’s hilarious reprise of ‘Sisters’ and, of course, the title song ‘White Christmas’. Whilst the snow was a nice, festive touch, the audience members who it covered didn’t look too happy …
Performed by Bob and the company, this gorgeous cover of perhaps the most famous Christmas song of all, closed the show – before the full company sang ‘I’ve Got My Love to keep Me Warm’ after the curtain call.
I also loved the continued theme of ‘Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)’, which was first sang by Bob to Susan Waverly (Ella Kemp) – a fantastic young talent.
If it isn’t obvious, my favourite part of the musical was not its story – which, I’ll admit, was great (and not too predictable) for such an old one – but all of its magical, memorable music. I couldn’t get ‘Sisters’ and ‘Blue Skies’ out of my head!
White Christmas plays at Manchester’s Palace Theatre until 4th December before visiting Plymouth and Edinburgh, where it plays until early January.