Thursday 19 January 2017

White Christmas is a sure bet

As the new all-singing all-dancing show heads to Dublin, Andrea Byrne finds herself in full-swing festive mode

Published 28/11/2011 | 06:00

SITTING in the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton along with 2,000 others awaiting the start of Irving Berlin's White Christmas, The Musical, I feared it would it be hard to feel festive. It was November after all, and unseasonably mild.

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Fast-forward two hours 40 minutes later, and you'd find me joyfully chiming in to a collective chorus of White Christmas as snow filled the auditorium.

You see, it's hard not to get drawn in.

White Christmas has all the hallmarks of good musical theatre: a heart-warming, simple, sweet story, some laughs, slick dance routines, and timeless, familiar music.

As one of its stars Adam Cooper points out "the band alone is worth the price of the ticket". With 17 musicians, the orchestra pit is much larger than any other West End Musical.

"If you looked at a Les Miserables pit, there are probably only six", an injured Aled Jones tells me ahead of the matinee performance

Jones pulls up his trouser leg to show me a heavily strapped leg, which will mean some changes to the show's choreography, but he assures me he will be back to full fitness when White Christmas opens in Dublin this week.

But even if his leg isn't fully recovered, fans need not worry because it's Jones' voice that is the star attraction. Most people will know him as the host of Songs of Praise, or the young soprano who sang the captivating Christmas song Walking in the Air.

"I am hard", he laughs when asked about battling through the pain, "I was built to sing ballads."

Adapted from the 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, White Christmas tells the story of two US soldiers -- Bob Wallace (Jones) and Phil Davis (Cooper) -- who find post-war success in showbiz. While doing some talent scouting, they meet the beautiful singing duo The Haynes Sisters, and follow them to Vermont where the girls have a Christmas gig. The place they're performing in happens to be owned by Wallace and Davis' former army commander, General Waverly, played by ex-Coronation Street actor Ken Farrington. The lodge is in financial trouble, and Bob and Phil along with The Haynes Sisters conjure up a plan to save it.

Louise Bowden, from Irishtown in Dublin, plays one of two of the female leads Judy Haynes, the flirty and fabulous love interest of Davis. As a romantic duo, Bowden and Cooper steal the show. Their singing and tap-dancing to I Love A Piano in the opening of Act 2 was a highlight and garnered the most applause of the evening.

"Lou is so lovely to dance with", Cooper smiles, "She has this great personality. And our styles fit very well together in the way that we dance."

Bowden, a former Billie Barry student who has been based in London for five years and who is as good a singer as she is a dancer, is obviously more excited than most about performing in Dublin.

When we meet in her dressing-room after the show, amid a sea of bouquets and bottles of champagne, she is already learning lines for a forthcoming audition. "I have to pay the bills," she laughs.

As musicals go, White Christmas is a particularly expensive one. Start-up costs hit the million mark, however, as director David Morgan tells me, weekly running costs have pushed that figure up quite considerably.

The set, costumes and general production values, while very traditional, are spectacular. Also, there is not a single weak link in the 30-strong cast.

Given that Aled Jones has a young family, is the constant travel and separation from loved ones difficult?

"They know no different. My wife knows no different. They notice when I am there and they don't really notice when I am gone." Although he admits he'd be lost without Apple's FaceTime.

Such is the speed with which tickets are selling that it's predicted White Christmas will break Irish box-office records when it comes to the Grand Canal Theatre, beginning its run on Thursday.

"If you hate Christmas," Aled Jones smiles as he gets up to leave, "there is a chance you might like it after this show."

White Christmas runs at the Grand Canal Theatre, Dublin, from December 1-17. Tickets priced from €20 are available from www.grandcanaltheatre.ie or by calling 0818 719 377

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