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REVIEW: White Christmas at Sunderland Empire



White Christmas

Sunderland Empire

Until Saturday 3 December 2022


Nikolai Foster’s reimagining of perhaps the most iconic Christmas musical film of all time for The Curve Leicester has high production values, imaginative staging, great choreography and slick direction. 

The show simplifies the back story of the leading male characters and features different numbers to the film, whilst including its signature songs. Some strong leading performances and a hard-working, polished ensemble ensure that the audience gets its festive fix and has a good time, whilst some devotees of Irving Berlin’s songs and the film might be left pondering the rights and wrongs of celebrity casting.

The show tells the story of two US army buddies, who make it big on the cabaret circuit and become successful variety producers. When one decides they should follow a sister act to Vermont for Christmas, they encounter their old general, now an innkeeper with a failing hotel, blighted by an unseasonable hot spell. They set out to rescue him by bringing their show to the inn and experience the ups and downs of showbusiness romance, before the inevitable happy ending.

The show looks great, the stage design by Michael Taylor moving slickly from 
war-torn France to a New York TV studio, through a most effective train carriage scene to the inn where most of the action plays out. Diego Pitarch’s costume designs contribute to the period feel and adorn the musical numbers beautifully.

Driving the show forward is the flawless performance of Dan Burton as Phil Davis. Irrepressible, engaging and full of energy, he is a true triple-threat performer. Dancing with great flair, singing with an appealing and effortless baritone and playing the comedy for all its worth. Matching him with a solid song and dance performance is Monique Young as Judy Haynes and they deliver songs like The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing, a hit from the film, and the ageless standard I Love A Piano, with great style.

The choreography of these and the other numbers by Stephen Mear CBE is in the grand Hollywood manner and gives just the right nostalgic feel to the songs, as does the style of the faultless ensemble’s delivery of the steps.

Given the tough job of following in Bing Crosby’s footsteps as Bob Wallace is Jay McGuiness, best known from pop band, The Wanted, and as a Strictly Come Dancing winner. He gives a performance that, though pleasant, seems to be scaled more for the TV screen than the stage. His light pop voice is an odd fit with Berlin’s score and is lost at times in the orchestrations. Unsurprisingly to Strictly fans, he dances very well, more than holding his own in the big numbers. Local girl Jessica Daley does a good job with the understated role of Betty Haynes and delivers her numbers well.

Providing sterling support is TV veteran Michael Starke as General Waverly, in a finely-judged performance that makes the audience believe he was an inspiring leader of men. Oddly, the character’s name has been changed from Tom in the film to Henry in the show. One wonders why.

Stage legend Lorna Luft (Judy Garland’s daughter, no less) as hotel concierge, Martha, reveals an unexpected past as a Mermanesque singer and the audience enjoyed her antics and those of the General’s starstruck granddaughter, Susan, played by Lucy Warway.

All in all, this is a lavish, well-staged, warm-hearted production which clearly gave the audience the nostalgic holiday feels.

Review: Jonathan Cash

Photos: Ellie Kurttz


White Christmas will hit Sunderland Empire’s stage from Monday 28 November – Saturday 3 December 2022. Tickets are available from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 7615* or online at *

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