Ambassadors Theatre 13 December. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
Ferris & Milnes’ West End debut – sadly just a one-off performance – should be available on the NHS as a cure for the Winter blues. Full of festive magic and performed with warmth and wit, Christmas Cracker is a perfect Christmas show.
Jam-packed with great numbers from a wide range of genres – Martin Milnes archly states that Dominic Ferris has a modern theatre and pop background, while he works with classical music and legitimate theatre! – the show has something for everyone.
The first act takes place in Martin’s living room, where the Steinway grand piano he just happens to be “piano sitting” comes in very handy for rehearsing their Christmas concert. This act has the feel of a classic 70s sitcom (in all the best ways), with Dominic’s calm manipulation of Martin to open his mind to new performance ideas creating some hysterical moments. The young performers of the Arts Ed choir seem to revel in their stereotype characters, and bounce off Ferris and Milnes deliciously, especially when being berated for rapping by Milnes – “You should be listening to Ivor Novello!” There’s also a (very weird) love triangle.
Act two is the actual concert – slick and stunning, with less comedy shtick and more musical numbers.
Dominic Ferris is a sublime pianist, with a lovely versatile voice. Martin Milnes is a vocal gymnast – switching between tenor and Mariah Careyesque high notes with consummate ease. Their voices blend beautifully and they perform together with intuition and infectious joy.
The set list reads like a whirlwind romp through the best of musical theatre. Decomposing Composers / By Strauss is a charming rollcall of Milnes’ favourites, Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off perfectly sums up their differences, and many other delightful duets. The solo performances are exquisite – each man showcasing his own style and performed with passion and integrity. Milnes’ Italian Street Song and You Could Drive Me Crazy are a masterclass of vocal range and physical comedy, and he demonstrates his versatility with his heartfelt What Kind of Fool Am I?
Ferris’ versions of If I can Dream and Daniel are gorgeously husky, and his piano solos just carry you away on a wave of energy and rhythm.
The choral pieces are simply stunning – with the choir giving their all in Carol of the Bells, Sir Christimas and O Holy Night. The show builds up into a full Christmas frenzy that would make Scrooge jump on stage to join in – it’s like being enveloped in a giant Christmas jumper and offered a bottomless glass of eggnog – all that was missing was snow. Glorious entertainment – I just wish they had more performances – I could watch this show on loop.