Touring – reviewed at Liverpool Empire Theatre
Following a successful West End engagement at the Dominion back in 2019, Nikolai Foster’s staging of White Christmas has been taken on the road for the 2022 festive season. Directed this time by Ian Talbot, the production has visited Truro, Nottingham and Sunderland, before closing its run at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre with a month-long stint. This time round, the Irving Berlin classic musical stars Jay McGuiness, Dan Burton, Jessica Daley, Monique Young, Lorna Luft and Michael Starke – and of course includes several renditions of the famous title song.
Bob Wallace (McGuiness) and Phil Davis (Burton) have taken their wartime hobby of entertaining their fellow soldiers, and turned it into a rather lucrative career – now, instead of the trenches, they’re singing on the Ed Sullivan show as well as putting together their own musical spectaculars. They are about to head down to Florida to begin their latest venture, when Davis’ head gets turned by one half of the Haynes Sisters; Bob and Betty (Daley) instantly clash – but that doesn’t stop Phil and Judy (Young) from turning into matchmakers.
Finding themselves headed for Vermont instead of Florida (‘coincidentally’ the sisters’ destination), Bob’s mood only improves when he discovers that their old general (Starke) is running the holiday inn at which they’ve arrived. As he’s down on his luck, Bob and Phil decide to put on a show and bring in some surprise guests to boost his morale – though not without some misunderstandings and heartbreak along the way.
I’d like to start by mentioning Michael Taylor’s set design. It shows incredible commitment to the show to tour with such an extensive set; it’s probably not quite everything that was used at the Dominion, for logistical reasons, but it definitely looks very similar. Given that the earlier stops on the tour had considerably shorter runs (and were spread out across the country), it’s really impressive to see. It also ties in neatly with Diego Pitarch’s beautiful costumes – the red finale designs are particularly memorable, giving a real Christmassy feel.
Two standout moments in the show come courtesy of Phil and Judy – and Stephen Mear’s choreography. ‘The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing’ is a dreamy wonderland of dance, demonstrating the couple’s immediate attraction, and ‘I Love A Piano’ is pure musical theatre. Give me a tap number, with glamorous black and white costumes (and set) and I’m sorted for the night! The storyline is fairly predictable, in the now familiar rom-com style, but there’s nothing wrong with that; with this kind of show you need uncomplicated, feelgood escapism – and this has it in spades.
McGuiness follows in fellow Strictly alumni Danny Mac’s shoes as Bob Wallace; though he has a couple of musical theatre credits to his name, his voice isn’t exactly the style you’d usually expect for a show of this kind – though he makes a passable job of his solo numbers, you can hear his voice reaching its limit on several occasions. He and Burton have a great rapport as the old army buddies (“The dog-faced boy!”), but aside from that his acting is a little wooden, particularly alongside his more experienced castmates.
Young and Daley are excellent as the Haynes Sisters, both vocally and in their all-round performance – they dance exquisitely and have excellent comedy timing, as does Lucy Warway as young Susan Waverly. For me, however, the star of the show is Burton. He is a ball of energy, throwing himself into the various dance numbers with verve, and is also a fantastic comic actor. It’s a true joy to watch him in full flow – making the show a really enjoyable festive night out.
My verdict? Feelgood, festive escapism the classic musical theatre way – Dan Burton is the star of the show.
White Christmas runs at the Liverpool Empire Theatre until 31 December 2022. Tickets are available online or from the box office.