Review: White Christmas by South Staffs Musical Theatre Company, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

It is a little known, and so far not disproved, fact that 90 per cent of the audience when leaving a production of White Christmas will be singing.

Review: White Christmas by South Staffs Musical Theatre Company, Wolverhampton Grand Theatre

Rebecca Haydon and Roger Stokes have a mistletoe moment

For it is virtually impossible to hear THAT song without slipping into a Bing Crosby-style version of the magical Christmas classic.

And, as the Wolverhampton audience proved, it is pretty much guaranteed to have everyone singing along and experiencing a warm Christmas glow when performed. Throw in a couple of snow machines at the end and you have the perfect feel-good seasonal classic.

South Staffs Musical Theatre Company have a good track record at the Grand Theatre in recent years and this production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas is no exception. The show is a little later in the year than usual for the company – but perfect timing for their chosen production as ticket sales show.

The strength of the show comes, once again, from the often astonishingly talented cast of actors and actresses drawn from across the region.

This is, of course, a classic fail-safe, boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love-but-has-to-jump-through-a-few-hoops-before-the-end-of-the-play storyline. There are heart-warming themes of love, friendship, family and loyalty weaved into the musical and heading towards the inevitable happy ever after.

In White Christmas there are great catchy tunes, big dance numbers, comedy and adorable main characters. There is glitz, glamour and some old-school entertainment.

So the company is on to a winner from the start when tackling this show. But this cast brings the characters to life with such energy, enthusiasm and confidence that you can’t help but cherish them.

In a nutshell, former soldiers turned entertainers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis have their heads turned by sister act Judy and Betty Haynes and follow them to Vermont for a Christmas show in 1954. Unknown to them, the hotel is run by their former General who has fallen onto hard times – not helped by the lack of snow.

The boys set about organising a big show, and calling in a few favours and old friends, to save the hotel. But matters are complicated by confusion and tension in their love lives.

Playing the male leads are Simon McGee as Bob and Luke as Phil. Simon oozes that suave, crooner style and is perfect for the Bing Crosby role but does display a layer of sensitivity and vulnerability in the character which adds further depth to the part.

Luke is a real little livewire in the role made famous by Danny Kaye, whizzing around the stage with vigour, enthusiasm and a great sense of fun. He is dynamite on the dancefloor, an absolute pleasure to watch as he puts those Strictly clowns to shame.

His love interest is singer Judy, played by Rebecca Haydon who is a lively, loveable character and a great dance partner for Luke.

Betty is played by Lexie Bennett, who played a stunning Nancy in the company’s production of Oliver! last year and has an excellent voice. Her sultry production of Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me was stunning.

A real star for me was Martha Watson played by Maria Shee. Maria is, in fact the choreographer for the show and responsible for the many complicated, exhausting dance numbers. We get a glimpse of her own abilities in Let Me Sing and I’m Happy and I Love A Piano.

And in addition to that, Maria, who is also deputy headteacher at Newbridge Preparatory School in Tettenhall, brings tremendous humour to the play in her role as hotel receptionist/PA/busy-body Martha. Her character never fails to spark a smile.

Special mention must also go 10-year-old Abi Hathaway who gave a quite breath-taking performance as the general’s granddaughter Susan Waverly. Her confidence and ability was astounding. Young Abi is destined for big things – you heard it here first folks.

She is another example of the amazing young talent that is harnessed by the South Staffs Musical Theatre Company and is the secret of their success year after year.

I was quite disappointed when I left the theatre and it was not snowing – but I was certainly singing. All together now – May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

Runs until Saturday.

By Diane Davies 

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