JOYCE MCMILLAN on WHITE CHRISTMAS at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 5.12.13.
4 stars ****
AS EVERY GENERATION of ex-soldiers learns in its turn, the postwar readjustment to civilian life can be a painful process. What’s irresistible about Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, though, is its upbeat insistence that for those who miss the camaraderie of the battlefield, the best option is to get involved in showbusiness, where team spirit and dedication are essential, if the show is to go on.
Set in Vermont at Christmas 1954 – with a Prologue in war-torn Europe, ten years earlier – the iconic film version of White Christmas famously features two ex-servicemen, Bob and Phil, who have built a successful postwar career as a song-and-dance double-act. For their old boss General Waverley, though, peacetime is proving difficult; and in no time Bob and Phil – and their two newfound girlfriends, the singing Haynes Sisters – are doing the show right there, at the General’s failing Vermont hotel, in an effort to mend his fortunes.
David Ives and Paul Blake’s 2004 stage version clings faithfully to the original storyline, despite a few additional songs; and it’s brought to life with a warm, spectacular and rewarding showbiz energy in this well-established touring production from Plymouth Theatre Royal, at the Festival Theatre until 4 January. Steven Houghton and Paul Robinson are sharp and engaging in the two leading roles. And if the 1950’s costumes are sometimes a shade garish and overblown, there’s still something exhilarating – and irresistibly festive – about the sight of a fine chorus of sixteen dancers twirling their way through a number like Blue Skies; with an excellent 15-piece band in the pit playing up a snowstorm, and binding together all the elements of a show that recalls a time, across the west, when people still believed they could build a peacetime world fit for heroes, and that they could do it with a smile, a song, and a rousing Broadway melody.