White Christmas

Date 2nd November 2019
Society Wigan Musical Theatre Group
Venue St Michael's Parish Hall, Shaw Street, Wigan
Type of Production Musical
Director Frances Cheetham
Musical Director Joan Bond
Choreographer Jayne Quinlan


Author: Jim Briscoe

White Christmas is a musical based on the 1954 Paramount Pictures film of the same name. The book is written by David Ives and Paul Blake with fabulous music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, considered one of the greatest composers in American history. The story follows two ex-servicemen, now a national hit and regulars on the Ed Sullivan Show. Bob a wary of love kind of guy and Phil a skirt chaser, who through an old army friend, end up meeting two beautiful sisters Judy and Betty Haynes, a double act. They boys end up in Vermont with the girls for the Christmas season where they are reunited with their old commander, General Henry Waverley, now a failing inn- keeper. In their efforts to help the General and salvage him from his debts, they devise a plan, “let’s put on a show” – “in a barn” – “in Vermont”. The two couples find their matches in love after some minor hiccups along the way.

This was the first time that Wigan Musical Theatre Group had staged this musical and I think I’d be right in suggesting that it had been a challenge!  White Christmas is a ‘big production’ which was dealt with efficiently and staged really well especially when you consider the limitations of St Michael’s Parish Hall. I also believe that an ‘additional night’ was added to the run, which can sometimes be a risk, but which proved a positive step and with almost full houses most nights –  White Christmas can only be described as a success....so congratulations to everyone concerned.

A quartet of strong players is required to play the four main leads. Fitting those roles perfectly were Mark Lloyd (Bob Wallace) and Neil Brogan (Phil Davis), our two ex-army buddies and Helen Ayres and Louise Steggals who played the singing sisters, Betty and Judy Haynes respectively.  Mark and Neil were well cast and looked totally comfortable in these roles and worked really well together.  Their opening songs, sung with Clive Green (Ralph Sheldrake), Happy Holiday and White Christmas set the perfect tone for the evening. Helen and Louise were also well cast and were a perfect fit for these roles; I just loved their rendition of ‘Sisters’.  All four not only created good individual characters, but they worked well as pairs and complimented each other when they sang and acted together as ‘couples’. ’Count your Blessing instead of sheep’ and ‘Love, You didn’t do Right by Me/How deep is the Ocean’ were sung really well by Bob and Betty as was ‘The Best things Happen when Your Dancing’ and ‘I Love a Piano’ sung by Phil and Judy.  Well done folks!

As mentioned previously, Clive Green played Ralph Sheldrake, the ex army buddy of Bob and Phil’s and now a fast talking television executive with the Ed Sullivan Show.  Again, Clive was well cast in this part and his rich singing voice added that ‘little extra’ to many of those wonderful Irving Berlin songs.    

Gary Hill did a great job as General Henry Waverley, Bob and Phil’s old commander now a failing Inn keeper.  Gary made this part his own, believable with good stage presence, well done sir!

Ian Hollis played ‘Mike and Jimmy’ and Paul Balfour played (‘Hey Up’) ‘Ezekiel’ -  two cameo roles that the lads played really well.  It’s sometimes hard to make ‘smallish roles’ your own but these lads achieved it and more. Great characterisation.....job well done guys!

The ‘Show Girls’... ‘Rhoda’ and ‘Rita’ were played really well by Catherine Gelder and Cara Bullock.   Flirtatious, sexy, brash...again looked totally comfortable in these roles, bags of stage presence ... well done ladies!

Sarah Collinge was the ‘perfect fit’ for the role of Susan Waverley – General Waverley’s granddaughter. Sarah had bags of confidence, stage presence aplenty, she sang and danced well and you could tell by the smile that never left her face, that she was having the time of her life...well done, young lady.

But the person who ‘stole the show’ for me was Caroline McCann who played the role of ‘Martha Watson’ General Waverley’s Housekeeper at The Columbia Inn. Comedy is spread throughout this show and Caroline was at the centre of most of it!  She produced this larger than life character who just commanded the stage whenever on it...stage presence, great characterisation, great comedic timing and great vocals – loved her rendition of ‘Falling Out of Love can be Fun’ with Betty and Judy  – many congrats – be ever so proud!

Other small roles included Clare Hodkinson as ‘Tessie and Sheldrake’s Secretary’, Alison Webb as  ‘Cigarette Girl’,  Maria Rignall as ‘Mrs Snoring Man’, Brian Middlehurst as ‘The Train Conductor’ Fiona Fuller as ‘The Dance Captain’, Julie Edwards as ‘The Seamstress, John Naughton as the ‘Ed Sullivan and Regency Room Announcer’.   The cast also included Julie Bradshaw, Hazel Dobson, Fiona Fuller, Val Hogg, Janet Lloyd, June McCoy, Bernie Murphy, Joyce Ratcliffe, Carol Smith, Jennifer Sudell and Alison Webb.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this friendly society thoroughly enjoyed doing this show and they were well rewarded by a very vocal audience on the night I attended.  So congratulations must go to Frances Cheetham (Director), Joan Bond (Musical Director), her orchestra and Jayne Quinlan (Choreographer) for a fabulous job - well done! 

Also congrats to Shelia Cleary (Stage Manager) and her backstage crew for ‘pushing and pulling’ and making the show come together on stage...well done guys, that can’t have been easy!  The Sound was good throughout, so congrats to Mel Meadows, Rachael Moulton.  Lighting was really good so again congrats to the Lighting Team... great effort on both counts folks.  Costumes and Props were excellent and added to the performance – congrats to Clare Hodkinson, Pat Reid and Joanne McSorley and Shelia Cleary respectively.

Thank you so much for a wonderful evening, my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Special thanks to Frances Cheetham for her hospitality (and cake) throughout the entire evening.  Looking forward to seeing you all again soon.