Review: White Christmas (Dominion Theatre) JohnnyFox November 14, 2014 Musicals, Reviews When the ‘best’ part of the evening is seeing how, after twelve migraine-inducing years of We Will Rock You, the Nederlander organisation has spruced up the Dominion so this 2000-seater now feels like a Broadway theatre, you may guess the show itself isn’t that compelling. A re-staging of Plymouth’s 2008 version of White Christmas (which was itself a re-tread of a production which had already run its course in San Francisco and New York) is not so much a box of delights as the box of old Christmas lights your dad rummages in the attic to bring down at this time of year: dusty, familiar and although – eventually – they work, a lot of the bulbs are a bit flickery and one or two quite dim. The costumes, a box of old Christmas tights and really rather colourful frocks, have worn well but you can’t send the plot and dialogue to Sketchley’s every October and hope they come back smelling as fresh. This wasn’t a particularly credible story in the 1954 movie, and in lesser hands seems even more creaky. Since it cast Gene Kelly as Bing’s sidekick, it was also known as ‘No Hope, and Crosby’. This time round, it hasn’t any Crosby either. Canny producers must calculate that however much ‘pallid Aled’ Jones is paid, he brings it back tenfold in the coach parties of knitting nannas who fondly remember him Walking In The Air thirty years ago, or touch themselves inappropriately during his cosy appearances on Songs of Praise and Breakfast TV. He sings accurately, if as though still wearing a ruff, and although he’s conspicuously whisked off stage any time serious tap dancing breaks out, manages to hoof his way through an opening number without disgrace. But he has the stage charisma of uncooked tripe and it’s beyond credibility that he’d ever ‘get’ the girl, even the sarcastic redhead, or that suave Tom Chambers would be his bessie mate. Next year, maybe try Alan Titchmarsh. Chambers is in a different league: the ladies in the foyer who are his neighbours in Derbyshire and who could easily have been Calendar Girls themselves told me he’d built a dancefloor in his barn to learn routines for Strictly. Lots of Peak District practice has brought results and he might not be Gene Kelly but with Louise Bowden at the top of Act 2 does raise the temperature for the first time in the dance number I Love a Piano. But even he can’t shore up a show whose plot is Some Like It Hot without the drag or the jokes – two vaudevillians headed for a job in Florida decide instead to chase skirt to Vermont and, in the absence of snow, agree to ‘put the show on right here’ in the barn of an inn owned by their bankrupt ex-army commander. Graham Cole puts up a good fight as the retired General, and once we decamp to the Inn the evening is rescued from ruin singlehandedly by a first class and unashamedly Mermanesque turn from Wendi Peters as the wisecracking and leather-lunged housekeeper. Why this hugely talented actress hasn’t yet been offered Mrs Lovett or Mamma Rose is beyond comprehension. Bowden, and Rachel Stanley who plays the other sister are also perfectly competent, sing well – especially in the nicely harmonised duets and trios – and have been in these roles in most of the six years of UK revivals, but they don’t exude star quality. It’s not often you’ll hear me say a show needs a Strallen – but it’s unfortunate the money didn’t run to Scarlett or Summer, or both. A casting policy which only invites people who’ve been in the production in provincial locations allows them to put it on with only four weeks’ rehearsal but also contributes to its stagnation, as does the lack of fresh choreography or musical arrangements. There should be more laughs: don’t vaudevillians crack zingers of one-liners all the time? If they do, they’ve died by row F of the stalls and the running gag is a tedious routine where a lazily-spoken stagehand lopes on and says ‘yee-up’ every now and again. When that’s your comedy highight, you know you’re dead in the water. All barn, no storm.