“Never had to have a chaperone…”
There’s most likely financial reasons for opening White Christmas in early November but it certainly gave many a critic the excuse to get their Scrooge on early. Likewise, there’s reasons of integrity for treating this show like any other in terms of theatrical criticism. But it is hard not to feel that this piece of festive window dressing perhaps deserves something of a free pass as it arguably falls under the bracket of high-class panto rather than fully-fledged musical theatre (even if the ticket prices err towards the latter).
Which is basically code for saying it is undemanding good fun and you pretty much know what you’re going to get in advance – people in search of punchy narrative drive and incisive characterisation are advised to look elsewhere. I actually saw this production in an earlier incarnation on one of its Christmas trips to the Lowry back in 2012 and whilst not being blown away by it, it hit the mark in terms of festive frippery. David Ives and Paul Blake’s book lightly adapts the 1954 classic film but the real star of Morgan Young’s production here of course is Irving Berlin’s evergreen music and lyrics.
So yes, Aled Jones’ Bob doesn’t really spark any real chemistry with Rachel Stanley’s Betty but he croons beautifully through the title track. Tom Chambers’ Phil and Louise Bowden’s Judy are more engaging as the second lead couple (but that’s an age-old tradition – for example, Anita and Bernardo are way more interesting than Tony and Maria..). And yes, Jones and Chambers make an unlikely pair of war veterans turned light entertainment stars but really, if you’re that way inclined to pull at scarcely credible plot threads then you’re most likely in the wrong place.
Rather, disengage critical faculties, engage festive cheer and enjoy what we’re given (preferably with an egg-nog or 2 beforehand). Which is sparkling singing, classy choreography (from Randy Skinner, Helen Rymer and Sara Brians), serendipitous snowfall and a Christmas cracker of a scene-stealing performance from Wendi Peters as a wisecracking, Ethel Merman-like concierge. Thoughts of it may well melt away quickly like a snowman built when it’s not quite cold enough but like the sugary hit of candy-floss, it sure is fun in the moment.