Steven Houghton, Graham Cole and Wendi Peters star in White Christmas stage adaptation
Stage adap of Irving Berlin's classic Christmas musical features 17-piece orchestra and a 30-strong cast
Some theatres try to stand against the tide of pantomimes: the Traverse pretends that Christmas isnʼt happening, while the Citizens has an adaptation of The Jungle Book. Irving Berlin’s White Christmas, however, straddles the divide between the festive jamboree and the sort of musical theatre found during the rest of the year.
With a familiar plot ‒ it’s based on the famous film of the same name ‒ and a smattering of stars, White Christmas provides a seasonal solution for families who don’t fancy shouting back at the performers. Aimed squarely at the Christmas market, it still has enough ingredients to remind audiences of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre’s year-round programme.
The film, which follows the adventures of two performers in their quest for love and success, was the highest-grossing film of 1954 and several of its songs – including the title number – have become standards in the Great American Songbook. The stage adaptation, meanwhile, received two Tony Award nominations on its Broadway revival in 2009, and has returned regularly for runs in the UK and USA – it’s been described as ‘something of a tradition on Broadway’.
Having a 17-piece orchestra and a 30-strong cast makes White Christmas a spectacular show, even for a musical: the addition of stars from TV lends it more of the seasonal glamour associated with pantomime. Steven Houghton (Coronation Street and London’s Burning) plays Bob Wallace – the role made famous by Bing Crosby – and he’s joined by Graham Cole (from The Bill) and another Corrie veteran, Wendi Peters.
It might not have the frenetic mayhem of The King’s pantomime, but it does have Berlin’s songcraft and a story that bounces between schmaltz and knowing irony: it reaches its happy ending only after the main characters have to escape angry landlords and misunderstandings.
Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Fri 29 Nov‒Sat 4 Jan 2014.