Never saw the 1954 film: Bing Crosby was a bit passé even for my generation. But the song is inescapable, and in certain moods, dammit, can still stir the heart. The musical been done for a UK tour but astonishingly this is its first big West End outing.
And a few times, especially in the first half, I could see why. Not to put too fine a point on it, its gentle aw-shucks goodwill and its ambling, I-feel-a-song-coming-on structure at times makes Top Hat o look as cutting-edge as Cabaret. But Irving Berlin never meant it to rattle any cages. Sit back, enjoy the immortal songs, and reflect on the world of sixty years ago, and the perennial need to hunker down at home, pull up the roses round the door and build a world without war. Morgan Young’s direction does nothing to rock that cosy boat, making lavish use of traditional curtains, scene changes during songs in front of them, and - inevitably - a final fall of snow on the predominantly white hair of the audience (well, it was a matinee).
The secret weapon, of course, is Aled Jones in the Bing Crosby role as Bob. And yes, he is wonderful. Not only because every song is both immaculate and heartfelt, and his dancing is pretty good, but because of his aura of kindly likeability without a trace of vanity: you feel calmer and happier just looking at him. Tom Chambers is Phil, with an astonishing seven-minute tap marathon opening the second half, Rachel Stanley a belting Betty, and Wendi Peters (the awful Cilla in Coronation Street) a ferocious receptionist with a voice like a foghorn and a well-upholstered heart of gold. Randy Skinner from Broadway choreographs, in a manner so respectful to the 1950’s hoofer-style as to be pleasantly retro (oh, those tapping chappies in white trilbies..).
It begins in World War 2, with Captain Bob and Private Phil putting on an troops entertainment at Christmas 1944; ten years on as professional song-and-dance men on the Ed Sullivan Show they audition a pair of girls for a spot in their performance (cue song - “Sisters!”). Soon the quartet find themselves in Vermont for a snow concert, find there is no snow and the men’s old General is running a near-bankrupt hotel. So yup, they put on a show in the barn and save the day. Add 1 a stagestruck tot , hysterical floor manager and a creaking comedy farmhand doing the curtains, and you have a no-biz-like-showbiz heartwarmer.
"I’m afraid that overall this dramatically flaky, commercially canny affair left me cold."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"You may feel that you've endured an entire lifetime of Christmases, white and otherwise, by the end of this amiable, lavish, dynamically danced, but dramatically insipid and ersatz-seeming stage-musical version of the famous 1954 movie."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It liberally sprinkles snowflakes and cosiness and throws in an explosion of song and high-energy hoofing. The stage is so awash with syrupy sentiment that you fear somebody might slip and take a tumble."
Lyn Gardner for The Guardian
"The songs — Sisters, Blue Skies and so on — are a perpetual delight, even if the narrative momentum gets stranded offstage for too-lengthy periods while the boys’ show is rehearsed. Ultimately and somewhat disappointingly, though, White Christmas left me with lukewarm cockles and a half-melted heart."
Fiona Mountford for the Evening Standard