White Christmas, Bristol Hippodrome

WHEN Bing Crosby sang White Christmas for the first time on Radio during his 1941 NBC Radio show, he may have thought it was a good number, but I doubt that he would have imagined that his recording of the song would become an all-time best-selling single of 50,000,000 copies, and if you take other artists versions in count double that number.

The song was also to follow Crosby into films with great success, it won the 1942 Academy Award for best original song in ‘Holiday Inn, and formed the basis for the very popular 1954 film ‘White Christmas’.

With the addition of more memorable Irving Berlin songs, it is on that 1954 film that this show is based. Fairly bursting with Berlin songs that had the lady, of pensionable age, sitting in front of me jigging and swaying about whist humming the tunes, the show is a must see for anyone who loves that style of music and enjoys a story full of romance and sentiment.

Director Ian Talbot, chorographer Stephen Mear and musical director Neil Macdonald all keep the show firmly anchored in the early 1950’s, and have a company who are equally committed to recreating the warmth and feel of the original film. The two big show pieces, ‘Blue Skies; and ‘I Love a Piano’ which closed act 1 and opened act 2, show the vocal and dancing skills of the whole company off to good effect. ‘I Love a Piano, one of the oldest numbers in the show, composed in 1920, also saw Dan Burton and Jessica Daley, who inherited the roles of Phill Davis and Betty Haynes, from Vera Ellen and Danny Kaye, at the top of their form. This number, sadly in view of its quality, the only one to feature Tap Dancing, was a fine show case for Dan and Jessica’s vocal and dance skills.

Completing the romantic quartet of Broadway song and dance men, Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, and sister act Judy and Betty Haynes, was Matthew Jeans and Emily Langham, no prizes for guessing who wound up in whose arms. In numbers like the gentle ‘I Fall Asleep Counting My Blessings’ and the more dramatic, ‘How Deep is the Ocean’, this duo ensured that vocally Bob and Judy, in the roles originally played by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney,  were right in period. In case the name rings a bell, Rosemary Clooney was George Clooney’s Aunt.

Like many of the songs in the show legendary Broadway star Ethel Merman’s was at the height of her fame from 1930n to1960 so it was appropriate that Sally Ann Triplett used the 1930 number ‘let Me Sing a Happy Song’ to demonstrate that she too could belt out a number in true Ethel Merman style. There was also a lovely take off this same number in Sally Ann’s style from Ella Kemp, General Waverly’s granddaughter, a typical little moppet of the period. As the General Duncan Smith had fewer chances to shine compared to Dean Jagger in the film. With no chance of bringing on a couple of hundred extra actors to play his old regiment, Ducan had to be content to use the audience to take their place, and did so in the quiet controlled manner that marked his portrayal throughout.

It may not seem to be quite right to describe this as a slickly presented production after the first night audience had to wait patiently in their seat’s whist running repairs were made to the scenery when the show was stopped after fifteen minutes for running repairs to a stuck, apparently waterlogged piece of apparatus. Once the repairs were made and the nervous assistant stage manager had vacated the stage, the production did proceed very swiftly and slickly.

In many ways this show is unashamedly nostalgic, and none the worse for that. It is a show for those who enjoy listening to melodic songs well sung, dance routines that do not remind you of a gymnastic competition plus a good dash of romance and sentiment.


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