9th November 2017
Crewe Lyceum Theatre
Type of Production
Malcolm Forbes - Peckham
Author: Louise Colohan
White Christmas is a musical based on the Paramount Pictures 1954 film of the same name. The book is by David Ives and Paul Blake, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. 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, a double act. They boys end up in Vermont with the girls for the Christmas season where they are reunited with their old General, 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.
Berlin has long been considered the greatest composer in America history, one cannot argue with this statement upon hearing the glorious overture for White Christmas. Malcolm Fobre- Packham lead the 18-piece orchestra with utter confidence, a band of this size produced a fantastic sound, just as the composer had intended, it must have been a joy to conduct, it certainly was a pleasure to hear such accomplished musicians playing. The logistical nightmare however is another thing entirely, I couldn’t help wondering where the 18 musicians were housed for the production, however, a visit backstage after the show answered that question, one room for a large percussion rig, another sound-proofed room for another 8 musicians and the rest in the pit. The balance was perfect, I can only imagine the man hours that went in to get this sound so accurate. Malcolm brings his own professional flare to the cast and demands perfection, the quality of the harmonies left me wondering if there were perhaps another twenty singers hidden somewhere else. The level achieved was very good, with personal highlights being “Blue Skies” and “White Christmas” in act two, the harmonies were so beautiful.
Joel Montague’s choreography was simply extraordinary offering much originality, sleekness and elegance. There were so many “wow” moments in this production, “The Best things happen when you’re dancing”, had a certain ‘LaLa Land’ feel to it, the clever transition of this scene was great, using the dancers to clear the stage during the number and then reestablishing the scene by the end of the number, flawless. “I love a Piano” another great number, the addition of the children was very nice and they were wonderful little tappers. A very classy and polished performance by an elegant set of dancers.
Gail Montague’s vision for this production was keeping in line with the overall effect this show has, the glamour, the dreamy romance and the festive cheer. Some lovely touches added to the overall experience, the snow was a definite hit with the audience. Her casting was good and she gained the most from the characters, the direction of Ezekiel was genius, a small part made a massive impact. Casting of this show is a vital element in its overall success, there are certain requirements for each character, one must dance, tap, have honey vocal tones and act, a difficult task you may say.
Matt O’Donnell played a heartwarming, lovely role of Bob Wallace. Great characterization, he flowed through the performance with much ease. A beautiful tonal quality in the voice enriched his performance. He nicely captured the comedy within his role. A highlight being the delivery of “Count your blessings”, which was most touching.
Sean Clark-Wilkinson, playing the skirt chasing Phil Davis gave a wonderful performance, a most accomplished of dancers, he excelled in his number “The Best things happen when you’re dancing”, showing great strength and moved so smoothly. Sean gave the character a lovely cheeky side which gave the role more substance. Another great vocal performance, I especially enjoyed “I love the piano”, where not only did we witness a polished vocal, we also saw a fantastic tapper in this performer.
Fiona Walker gave a remarkable performance as Betty Haynes. She sounded as if she had stepped out of the original movie, a vocal most suited to the period. “Love you didn’t do right by me” was hair-raising, it was delectable. A good grasp on the character, meant that the audience could see the character grow throughout the show. The on-stage chemistry between her and Matt O’Donnell was very believable.
Gemma O’Donnell as Judy Haynes gave a good comedic performance which added to the overall effect of the foursome. Another very accomplished dancer, she captured the romance nicely in “Best Things happen when you’re dancing”. Great vocal quality which blended extremely well in the number “Falling out of love can be fun”. A most enjoyable performance.
Natalie Kent gave a powerhouse performance in her role as Martha Watson, certainly the best written role in the musical. She didn’t miss a trick in this role, giving the audience everything, comedy, brassiness and a belter of a vocal.
Rob Earl as General Waverly was accurate in his movements, his posture suggested his ranking immediately. Strong character which developed nicely and added much in the way of comedy value, which was evident in the scenes with Martha Watson.
Little Susan got the most beautiful portrayal by Yazmin O’Conner. A star in the making, this young lady can dance, act and has a very strong voice. She was delightful to watch.
Rhoda & Rita, Heather Taylor & Rhianne Stubbs, what a comic duo, they provided some of the funniest moments of the evening. Suitably equipped with a shrieking, ear wrenching spoken voices they were a hoot.
All other supporting roles were well cast and players doubled in varying parts very confidentially. One that must be singled out is Christopher Barker as Ezekiel, an excellent portrayal of a small role.
The visual aspect of this show was managed well, every girl donning suitable wigs in the style of the period, an array of costumes that I would expect to see on a professional stage, there were so many stunning costumes but if I were to mention any it would be those wore in the final scene, simply stunning.
The set maintained a supportive role throughout in its minimalist existence, however, there is little requirement within this show for a big set. What was presented on the stage was just enough, it didn’t need anymore. The snow was such a treat and was a definite audience pleaser.
A wonderful evening which really put me in the festive spirit. It was an audible feast and a visual spectacular and I thank you so much for inviting me. I look forward to my return visit in the New Year!