White Christmas cast celebrate the seasonal spectacular heading for Liverpool Empire
White Christmas – or blue skies? Luckily you don’t have to choose at the Liverpool Empire this season because both are on offer in the theatre’s festive offering courtesy of composer Irving Berlin.
The Lime Street landmark played host to the hit musical in 2011, and now it’s back with an all-singing, all-dancing (literally) cast of talented triple threats ready to inject some joy into the time of year.
The production, based on the 1954 film favourite and set in upstate Vermont, takes up residence at the Empire for three weeks, opening on December 6 and stars Liverpool’s Michael Starke as Major General Waverly and Lorna Luft as his housekeeper.
At the heart of the story is a quartet of on-off lovebirds, Bob Wallace, Phil Davis, and sisters Betty and Judy Haynes.
I caught up with Dan Burton, who plays Phil, Jess Daley (Betty) and Monique Young (Judy) as well as Jay McGuiness (Bob) to talk about the show and the season to be jolly.
Welcome to the Empire – or is it welcome back?
Daley: “I was here in An Officer and a Gentleman, and I also did The Sound of Music here in 2015.”
Young: “I was here in 2015 as well with Hairspray.”
Burton: “In the few tours I’ve done I’ve never been to the Empire, so I’m really looking forward to it.”
You’re all returning to White Christmas after appearing in previous years. Why is that?
Daley: “I think it’s what everybody has needed to be honest. Last year we were still mid-pandemic and we wanted to bring the Christmas cheer to everybody after Christmas was cancelled the year before. But this year it’s nice because it feels like there’s some sense of normality coming back.
“What I really love is singing the Irving Berlin score. To be able to sing Love You Didn’t Do Right by Me, which was immortalised by Rosemary Clooney in the film, is an absolute honour.
“Lorna Luft, who is obviously royalty in the land of musicals, she told me a story about how that song was written. Because Rosemary Clooney was like a second mum to her.”
Above: Monique Young and Jess Daley with Lorna Luft in White Christmas. Photo by Ellie Kurttz. Top: Jay McGuiness, Dan Burton, Michael Starke, Jess Daley and Monique Young at the Liverpool Empire. Photo by Jono Symonds.
Young: “This show has such a wonderful message about community and helping and coming together. And I love it’s ensemble based. In some shows if you’re playing a part you can feel quite isolated and separate, but in this show it doesn’t feel like that at all.
“The numbers are just beautiful. My favourite is The Best Thing Happen When You’re Dancing because it really feels like you’re doing an MGM, with the moon behind and those beautiful harmonies - it’s just absolutely stunning.”
Burton: “In my whole career there’s probably only a handful of shows, this and playing the Gene Kelly role, Don, in Singin’ In the Rain which I did opposite Monique, there’s only certain roles that I feel like I want to come back to.
“Not just because it’s unfinished business but because in this current climate in this day and age, there are fewer MGM musicals which are triple threat, old school choreography.
“I’ve had the pleasure of dancing (choreographer) Stephen Mear’s work for many years in different productions. But I always push myself a bit more, as does he with me to demand more from what is required.
What advice do you have for new members of the cast?
Burton: "You sort of take them under your wing and say ‘this is what we’re doing’, but at the same time every year isn’t the same, it’s evolved and Ian Talbot (resident director) is a genius in that sense because he’s redirected myself and Monique and Jess.
“We’ve got the wonderful Jay McGuiness in the show, and he’s never done it. He brings a very different element to the role of Bob, and the two previous gentlemen who played the role had very different ideas as well. So to have his version of Bob makes you then look at things in a different way.
Daley: “You adapt don’t you? You adapt to who you’re working with so it creates a different relationship.”
Young: “And the energy with the four is always different. We’ve never done this combination together, and every year has had a different four.”
Burton: “We created our roles originally at Leicester four years ago. But last year was so different.”
Young: “It feels so different from four years ago; it’s evolved and changed. And coming to it a year later, or four years later – after Covid – after all that time we went through, I feel like we’re different as people so of course the roles are going to be different, and the experiences are different. You’ve had a while not to be in the show and you’ve just grown as a human. Life experience.”
Above: Monique Young, Jess Daley, Dan Burton and Jay McGuiness. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Daley: I’ll tell you what it is as well. There’s no ego in the room. We’re all in it to collaborate and create the best version of the show, and I think that’s so important when you’re working on such an ensemble-based show that there’s not one person thinking their part is bigger than another. We’re all a working cog in a very successful machine.”
This production is also on tour – what are your top tips for touring?
Daley: “Packing cubes from Amazon. I drive everywhere because I like to be in control of my own travel. Book your digs as soon as you get that job so they’re out of the way, because it’s quite difficult at the moment. Just try to be as organised logistically as possible more than anything.”
Burton: “Dose up on ibuprofen and bath salts! And make sure that you’re definitely going to wear the clothes you’re going to take. I find I’ve got at least 15-20 outfits that I don’t wear by the end of the tour that I didn’t need to bring.”
Young: “You’re going to accumulate things in cases, so leave space for things you could potentially be buying.”
Leaving aside a White Christmas, what’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever had?
Young: “I remember being absolutely thrilled with a baby Furby. Now is different, but at the age of 11, I was thrilled.”
Daley: “I feel like it was a Nokia 3330 phone. So much joy because it was in a box that was not a Nokia 3330 box.”
Burton: “When I was covering in playing Franki Valli in Jersey Boys, I was given an original vinyl of Silence is Golden, signed by him.”
McGuiness: “Last year I got a very rare record of a Newton Faulkner album which I’m a huge fan of and I had no idea that was winging its way to me. So that made me tear up.
“And the other one was as a kid I got a Get Set Egyptian Adventure. Basically, a plaster of Paris archaeology dig out a mummy and paint a Tutankhamun.”
Above: "The numbers are Broadway spectaculars." Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
And how about your favourite Christmas song?
Burton: “Wham - Last Christmas.”
Daley: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Judy Garland.”
McGuiness: “Right now I’d go Fairytale of New York.”
Young: “The Christmas Song.”
Going back to White Christmas, what can Empire audiences expect?
Young: “Although it’s a Christmas show the feel of it is very community and family based. The numbers are Broadway spectaculars, and hopefully we’re delivering a Broadway/West End show.”
Burton: “Looking out into the audience at the end of the show, when you see the demographic of audience members, whether it’s grandparents or children or mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, nephews, uncles, aunties, the lights come up slightly and you see what Christmas means to each person individually.
“Theatre is one of the biggest escapisms that we have, and I think at this time especially when theatre is trying to get back on its feet, but also when purse strings are tight, people need something to escape from.
“And if we can deliver that, even if it’s just for a couple of hours, I really feel like then we’ve done our job properly.”
White Christmas is at the Liverpool Empire from December 6-31. Tickets HERE