Review: White Christmas at Dominion Theatre

Like it or not, the festive season is well and truly upon us – and nowhere more so than at the Dominion Theatre, home until the new year to the West End transfer of White Christmas, following its critically acclaimed run last year at Leicester Curve. A glitzy, joyous and unashamedly cheesy spectacle with a stellar cast, this revival of Irving Berlin’s festive musical will undoubtedly send even the most determined of Scrooges away feeling at least a little bit Christmassy.

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Which is funny, really, since most of the show doesn’t have much to do with the holiday season, and for most of the evening it’s easy to forget we’re watching a Christmas show at all. Set in 1954, the plot follows soldiers turned Broadway stars Bob Wallace (Danny Mac) and Phil Davis (Dan Burton), as they team up with singing sisters Betty (Danielle Hope) and Judy Haynes (Clare Halse) to put on a spectacular new show. Their goal is to save a struggling Vermont inn, owned by their much-respected former general Henry Waverly (Michael Brandon) and managed by no-nonsense concierge Martha Watson (Brenda Edwards). Along the way, naturally, there are misunderstandings and miscommunications – but eventually everything sorts itself out, everyone falls in love, and it starts snowing just in time for their Christmas celebrations.

The production, directed by Nikolai Foster and choreographed by Stephen Mear, is undeniably brilliant. Highly polished and visually stunning, it showcases the talent and charisma of an exceptional cast. Leading men Danny Mac and Dan Burton are an effortlessly charming duo, and Danielle Hope and Clare Halse prove more than a match for them as the glamorous and accomplished Haynes sisters. The choreography and design are exquisite, and there are moments in the show – particularly during the lavish dance numbers, and any time the magnificent Brenda Edwards is on stage – that genuinely take your breath away.

While everything about the production is of the highest quality, the same can’t necessarily be said of the show itself, which sometimes struggles under the burden of a weak and dated storyline, and songs that are – with one or two obvious exceptions – not particularly memorable or relevant to what’s going on. (Which is not to say they’re not catchy; there’s a song about snow in Act 1 whose lyrics make no sense at all, but it’s still incredibly hard to sit still through it.)

Photo credit: Johan Persson

Still, it’s difficult to be too bothered by any of this because, well, it’s Christmas… Maybe it’s not perfect, and it certainly takes a while to get warmed up – but sometimes a bit of feel-good festive escapism is all you need, and on that front the show delivers in style. Before long the stage is overflowing with so much joy, romance and goodwill to all that ultimately, much like the snow song, this White Christmas proves impossible to resist.

White Christmas is at the Dominion Theatre until 4th January.

Review: Annie Get Your Gun at the Orchard Theatre

I have no idea how it took me this long to make it to my first production by the Dartford Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society (DAODS). But if Annie Get Your Gun is an indication of the quality I’ve been missing, I can safely say it won’t be the last.

From the exuberant opening number, There’s No Business Like Show Business, it’s obvious this is a polished production from a dedicated and talented company; in fact there’s really very little to distinguish the show from the professional standard we’re used to seeing at the Orchard.

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Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun is based on the true story of Annie Oakley, a tomboy with a talent for sharpshooting, who’s discovered by Colonel Buffalo Bill and persuaded to join his travelling Wild West Show. Romance blossoms between Annie and the show’s star shooter, Frank Butler, but is threatened by their constant squabbling and professional rivalry. Can the two of them resolve their differences and live scrappily ever after?

The undeniable star of the show is Abby James, who makes her Orchard Theatre debut as Annie. With perfect comic timing and a sensational voice, she gives an energetic performance that’s more than worthy of a West End stage. Paul Farlie charms us all as the smooth-talking Frank Butler, and there are stand-out performances from Heather Upton in her first major role with DAODS, playing Annie’s nemesis Dolly Tate, and Webster Bryans in his first production with the group as knife-thrower Tommy Keeler.

One of the most impressive things about the production, which is directed by Amy Farlie, is the attention to detail. Because it’s framed as a show within a show, for instance, the set changes become part of the action, and it’s great fun to listen to the actors bicker amongst themselves as they hurry on and off the stage. The cast are obviously enjoying themselves up there, and their enthusiasm is infectious, particularly during the spectacular ensemble numbers, choreographed by Sam Eades.

The show itself is also great fun, with several familiar songs and an enjoyable story (and I don’t even like guns). It also comes with a massive helping of girl power; for all her sighing over Frank, Annie’s not willing to change who she is to be with him. And she’s definitely not about to obey…

Everything about this production – not only the performances but also the set, costumes, choreography, and the fantastic band, led by Steve Trill – is of the highest standard. DAODS may be amateur by name, but don’t let that put you off going along to one of their shows. I’ll certainly be back for more.

Annie Get Your Gun has now closed, but check out the DAODS website for details of upcoming productions, including Made in Dagenham in 2017.