ALED AND TOM DO THE SHOW RIGHT HERE…
Aled Jones is wonderful. Honestly. He is. Won’t ever hear a word against him. This contentedly hokey stage revival of Irving Berlin’s 1954 seasonal heartwarmer is his West End debut, but you’d never know it: not only because he sings with a fluid insouciant ease which relaxes you into the classic songs with a sensation not unlike swimming with dolphins. He dances, not half badly though less spectacularly than the amazing Tom Chambers as his mate Phil . And – as Bob the WW2 veteran turned song-and-dance man – he exudes such industrial-strength, powerfully benign likeability that dammit, you can’t take your eyes off him. You feel safe.
And it’s a show about feeling safe, possibly the most unthreatening theatre experience on the planet right now. It’s a rom-com two performers getting together to save their old General’s failing Vermont ski lodge with a pair of (highly respectable) showgirl sisters, a foghorn-voiced diva turned receptionist and a winsome stagestruck tot (Sophia Pettit, managing to play it both abominable and rather touching). The jeopardy is slight – Betty (a gorgeous Rachel Stanley) misunderstands Bob just as their awkward romance is blossoming, but not for long. The General, given genuine presence and personality by Graham Cole, resolves his yearning to get back to the army without undue stress. The slow farmhand in charge of the curtains more or less gets it right, the Vermont locals dance with improbable precision, and the show goes on, as it must.
It’s a relaxed enough pace to cause impatience in some – expect no great spectaculars, no emotional catharsis, no political swipes – and its success is mainly as a period piece. But that relaxation gives you an opportunity to reflect on that world of sixty years ago, and what it needed. America in this show is not questioning itself, but cosying down into domesticity, looking inward, putting its faith in sleigh-bells in the snow, acknowledging the war so lately past and wanting to forget it. The parallels in dialogue between war and showbiz are brief but noticeable: the men adore the General who “would have gone through hell for them” and make parallels with the solidarity of performers. It is as if they were saying “right, Eisenhower was what we needed then, but now it’s over to Ethel Merman…”
But enough of the social anthropology. In its terms – and they are, by modern musical theatre standards, limited – it works a treat. By the time the snow falls on us all and a prolonged curtain call of red-and-green, velvet-and-tinsel-and-fur-hat chorines has hoofed its last, we are ready for Christmas. Except hell, it’s only the 13th of November. But that, every year, is the lot of the theatre critic…
box office 0845 200 7982 to 3 Jan