White Christmas Festival Theatre

Probably the most appropriate and best-known Christmas show of all, thanks mainly to the iconic Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye movie that gets regular tv outings at this time of the year, this is more than just a showcase for Irving Berlin’s wonderful music. While the plot may be slight and contrived, the underlying sentiments of the importance of having loved ones around you is what contributes most to the longevity and undying popularity of the show.

For those not familiar with the tale, it’s Christmas 1954, and two ex-service buddies, Bob Wallace (Steven Houghton) and Phil Davis (Paul Robinson) have made a career as a song-and-dance act. Intent on heading for Florida, Phil encounters the singing Haynes Sisters (Rachel Stanley and Jayde Westaby) and swaps the train tickets so he and Bob can follow them to Vermont, where the girls have been booked to play at a struggling hotel. Said hotel just happens to be run by their old commanding officer, General Waverley (Graham Cole) and manager Martha Watson (Wendi Peters). So, in the best showbusiness tradition, the boys rally the troops to put on a show in the barn and save the business from ruin.

But the simplicity of the plot leaves room for the real business – and that’s the classic songs and the spectacular dance routines. A show full of memorable music: Blue Skies, The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing and of course White Christmas itself. But the showstopping moment comes at the start of the second act, when Paul Robinson, Jayde Westaby and the dancers brought the audience to their feet with I Love a Piano. Hats off to choreographer Randy Skinner and all concerned, and to MD Andrew Corcoran and the Orchestra. Faultless all.

While the leads all have big shoes to fill, the cast are uniformly excellent, with particular praise for Steven Houghton and the vivacious and sparkling Rachel Stanley, who lead from the front.

Coupled with top class production, suitably loud costumes, and a sense of the spirit of hope that pervaded those post war years, it all comes together to make this the ideal Christmas night out, whether or not your Christmas is white.

Jim Welsh