Cast of White Christmas check out Sunderland's festive offering as hit musical arrives at Empire
“It’s the kind of show where you just walk out feeling really good,” says Lorna Luft as she and the rest of the White Christmas cast arrive on Wearside to sprinkle some festive theatre magic.
Speaking at City Hall where a huge tree greets visitors in the entrance hall, Lorna, who, as the daughter of Judy Garland and Sidney Luft, hails from theatrical royalty says she’s delighted to be back in the musical.
"I’ve been doing this show on and off for 16 years and every time it’s like putting on this wonderful, warm cardigan that brings comfort, joy and happiness,” she said.
Lorna, who plays Martha Watson in the show, added: “It’s a show for everybody, aged eight to 80, the audiences go crazy, we bring Christmas to them.
"This is the most talented, wonderful group of performers and a beautiful bunch of human beings – and there isn’t a cast who can do an American accent like them.”
Marvelling at the Empire, she said: "It’s a stunning theatre that the entire part of this country should be proud of. I really encourage people to support live theatre. The past couple of years have been a dismal time for audiences and performers. So to be able to work again and hear the laughter and applause of audiences is so heartwarming.”
Based on the hit 1954 film starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the musical has music and lyrics by Irving Berlin including Blue Skies, Sisters, I Love a Piano, Count Your Blessings and, of course, White Christmas.
Starring alongside Lorna is Michael Starke as General Waverley, Jay McGuiness as Bob Wallace, Dan Burton as Phil Davis, Jessica Daley as Betty Haynes and Monique Young as Judy Haynes.
Michael, who is well known for playing Sinbad in Brookside for 16 years as well as many theatre roles, said: “I’ve been to Sunderland a few times in my career and I really like the people here. Being in this show is a dream come true, the people are so lovely and the show is so nostalgic.”
Jay is more used to screaming North East audiences from his time in boy band The Wanted who reunited for a tour ahead of the tragic death of bandmate Tom Parker in March this year.
"Boy band audiences are a bit different to theatre audiences,” said Jay. “But all performers will tell you that the further north you go, the better the audiences. We last played Nottingham which is my home town, which was amazing, but I’m looking forward to Sunderland crowds being even more raucous.
"While me and the boys aren’t doing anything at the minute it’s great to be doing something different like musical theatre.
"The cast are real hard core musical theatre talent and they have a great sense of humour. Dan has been a great support to me and such a tonic.”