WHITE CHRISTMAS (Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin, Book by David Ives and Paul Blake)
Kenton Theatre, New Street, Henley-on-Thames, RG9 2BP
5-8 December 2018
The song 'White Christmas' first appeared in the 1942 movie, 'Holiday Inn', starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Such was the success of the song that, in 1954, there was a sort-of remake, this time called 'White Christmas', based very loosely on the same story, again starring Bing Crosby, and co-starring Danny Kaye. It is on this 1954 film that the stage musical is based.
Bob Wallace (Ryan Stevens) and Phil Davies (Nick Brannam) were buddies in the US Army in WWII, but have since teamed up to become a famous song-and-dance act. One evening, they meet up with sisters Betty and Judy Haynes (Sally Sharp and Gemma Hough), another song-and-dance act who are struggling to get their careers off the ground. Phil falls for Judy, but Bob and Betty decidedly do not like each other. At all. Phil is so smitten with Judy that, when he discovers that the sisters are off to Vermont for a Christmas booking, he decides to go there too. Bob and Phil are actually due to go to Florida for Christmas, but Phil fools Bob into getting on to the Vermont train instead. When they arrive at the Columbia Inn in Vermont, they discover that it is run by their old WWII army commander, Major General Waverley (Barrie Scott). He has fallen on hard times, as the hotel is doing badly. Bob decides to put on a show to help the general, inviting all his old comrades from his army days. Meanwhile Bob and Betty have fallen for each other. However, Betty hears about Bob's plan to help the general, but misunderstands his intentions. She thinks Bob is planning a sneaky takeover of the hotel. In the end, the misunderstandings are resolved and Bob and Betty are reconciled.
Director Jennifer Scott served up a polished production of this ever-popular story. Ryan Stevens and Nick Brannam worked well as singing and dancing duo Bob and Phil, who fool around and spar with each other. Their performance of 'Sisters' (in the absence of Betty and Judy) was perfectly pitched for comic effect. It would have been easy to over play the comedy of the piece and ham it up, but Jennifer Scott's direction reined them in just enough.
Ryan's Bob up against Sally Sharp's Betty Haynes convinced as a couple who loathe each other, with regular eye-rolling and sardonic put-downs. We could all see their falling in love coming a mile off, but the transformation was, nevertheless, touchingly portrayed. Gemma Hough's bubbly, bouncy good-time girl Judy Haynes hit the spot and was well paired with Nick Brannam's Phil.
The singing of the principals was accomplished. Betty and Bob's performance and reprise of 'How Deep is the Ocean' was a gorgeous sound, as was Betty and Judy's own performance of 'Sisters'.
Barrie Scott pulled off a believable portrayal of General Waverley. Physically, he was right for the part, but he managed to bring us a military man who will not allow standards to slip, with a softer man inside, who has come to recognise his limits. Ginnie Freeman gave comic sparkle to the role of Martha Watson, the general's secretary, who spars with her boss and is in no way intimidated by the former military commander. Some good comic timing from Ginnie.
We had a couple of brilliant cameos from Samantha Riley and Nicola Gordon as showgirls Rhoda and Rita. They have their eyes (and a lot more, if they had their way) on Bob, openly flirting with him in front of Betty, causing the expected jealousy. Bob can't quite give them up, even with Betty around. With Samantha and Nicola's infectious energy and charm, who could blame him?
The general's grand-daughter Susan was played by two different child performers on alternate evenings. On the evening I went, the role was taken by nine-year-old Sophia Newborough who gave a quite remarkable performance. Her solo of 'Let Me Sing and I'm Happy' drew deserved cheers from the audience.
Congratulations are also in order to Gemma Hough as choreographer and John Timewell as musical director, who drew some slick routines and performances from the members of the chorus.
The Kenton Theatre is fortunate enough to have flies, so scenery backdrops can be dropped and raised easily. It was a facility that was made full use of. I especially liked the backdrop in the barn at the Columbia Inn.
Jennifer Scott should feel a sense of satisfaction at bringing us a version of this Christmas favourite that had energy, humour and seasonal sparkle.
Photo credits: Julie Huntington
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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