Review: White Christmas 2019, Dominion Theatre

The reliable charms of White Christmas reappear at the Dominion Theatre

“When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.”

White Christmas is a show that keeps returning and consistently attracts casts that I can’t quite resist. I’ve seen it in Manchester, Leeds and in this very theatre five years ago. So NIkolai Foster’s production holds little surprise for me now, insomuch as any production of White Christmas can surprise. Instead the feeling is more of cocoa-warm comfort, a reliability underscored by fun performances from leads Danny Mac, Dan Burton, Danielle Hope and Clare Halse. Read my 4 star review for Official Theatre here. 

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 4th January

Review: Aladdin, Prince Edward

“A hundred thousand things to see”

Say Aladdin to most people across the world, and Disney would hope that the first thing that comes to mind is their 1992 animated film. In the UK though, the title is indelibly linked to pantomime and so it feels a little incongruous to have a major musical production of it opening in the middle of June. And whilst Casey Nicholaw’s production hasn’t stimped in any conceivable way when it comes to the look of the show (striking design from Bob Crowley), there’s still a faintly hollow ring to the whole proceeding.
A big hit on Broadway, Aladdin has been pretty much replicated and transplanted into the Prince Edward. Which is good in terms of the undeniable quality of the Disney brand – the family-friendly ethos, the slickness of the design, the unexpected self-referential dips into other Disney musicals. And in the knowing performance of American Trevor Dion Nicholas as the Genie, there’s a respectful homage to the character that Robin Williams brought to life so memorably on screen, which still carves its own identity too.
But the show is called Aladdin, and there’s no escaping that he’s a dud of a character. As is his high-born love interest Jasmine, Chad Beguelin’s book surprisingly weak here. Which leaves the show at a pretty pass, for neither Dean John-Wilson nor Jade Ewen can do too much to invest any kind of real life into them or the jolly japes they work their way through – Ewen does try valiantly though to inject some kind of positive feminist message into a story that is appallingly, dare one say it unforgivingly, lacking in that respect.
You can point to the devilishly good time that Don Gallagher and Peter Howe have as the nefarious Jafar and (humanised) Iago; or to the boisterous camaraderie of Aladdin’s coterie of (male) monkeying pals, Stephen Rahman-Davies and Nathan Amzi standing out here; there really is much to enjoy here on this magic carpet ride. But for all the theatrical pizzazz, there’s not enough emotional magic to keep you soaring, tumbling, freewheeling like the best fairytales should. 
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 11th February

Review: Damn Yankees, Landor

“You gotta know what game to play and how to play it”

Faust via baseball, with songs – that’s Damn Yankees, the latest musical revival to hit Clapham North’s Landor Theatre, in a nutshell for you although the picture below gives a little more detail about the production… Hapless Joe Boyd blithely makes a deal with the devil to become Shoeless Joe Hardy who can save his beloved baseball team’s shockingly bad season even if it means leaving his wife behind. Sure enough though, as he helps the Washington Senators to victory after victory, suspicions about his sudden arrival are roused and it turns out he’s kinda missing his wife after all – can you go back on a deal with the devil?

It’s always a thrill to see choreography that tests the limits of this intimate space and Robbie O’Reilly’s work here is particularly striking in the group numbers – bringing to life the eternal conflict between obsessive sports fans and their spouses in the vibrant opening number ‘Six Months Out Of Every Year’, giving us the taut sensuality of a Latin dance club, or stripping the baseball team to their towels to show off their…ahem ‘Heart’. A show at the Landor also needs a director who understands the wide aspect of the stage and how to use it both efficiently and effectively.

Robert McWhir is of course that director (13 years and counting as AD) and there’s real skill in how he visualises scenes and stages them here – knowing exactly when to pull in focus or throw out wide (the staging of emotional trio ‘Near To You’ is particularly well done), how to move considerable groups of people around and still manage to get surprise reveals in there (keep your eye on the fireplace!) Aspiring directors could do a lot worse than come and get a masterclass in exploring and exploiting fringe stages here.

As in theatre as in life, the devil gets all the best lines (and songs) and whether in the Mephistophelean hands of Jonathan D Ellis’ Mr Applegate or the seductive allure of his able and willing assistant Lola as played by Poppy Tierney, it’s easy to see the appeal of some right good damnation. Tierney manages the not inconsiderable feat of bringing conviction to Lola’s journey through the show and Ellis is clearly at home as he chews the scenery up something rotten with devilish panache and a wicked sense of humour (as the gentleman who nipped to the loo midway through one of his songs soon found out).

Alex Lodge makes for a charming hero as the sweet-voiced younger Joe, a natural counterpart to Gary Bland’s older original, and Nova Skipp’s Meg – the ever-dutiful and way-too-understanding wife – has a beautifully straight-forward good-natured appeal and a lovely quality to her voice. Michael Webborn’s musical direction encourages this entirely straight bat from everyone which makes the Richard Adler and Jerry Ross’ score really pop in a good old-fashioned way and unmiked as the singing is, it really does create a glorious sound. Something of a home run then for the Landor (see, I knew I could get a sporting pun in there!)

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £2.50
Booking until 8th November
Note: the production is recognition of the 75th anniversary of US baseball player Lou Gehrig’s retirement from the sport after being diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (also known as ALS, they of the Ice Bucket Challenge, and actually as Lou Gehrig’s disease in the USA). Please do give generously if you can.