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IN terms of scene-setting, the snow-dappled Perthshire hills beyond the theatre had already given director John Durnin a head start for his production of the classic Irving Berlin-scored musical.

While it's remarkable that David Ives and Paul Blake's stage version of Michael Curtiz's 1954 big-screen vehicle for Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye has only been around since 2004, it's a gift to see a show normally reserved for the commercial circuit in such refreshingly close-up form. Beyond the uber-slick song and dance routines from a 20-strong cast plus an exuberant 10-piece band, it's also a fascinatingly telling period piece.

Ex-GIs turned big-time double act Bob and Phil wind up in an unseasonally sunny Vermont for Christmas with sisters Betty and Judy.

With their former general's hotel in hock, Bob and Phil conspire to put on a benefit gig for the old boy, doing the decent thing with the girls en route.

As Bob and Phil, Grant Neal and Simon Coulthard are matinee idol troupers to the last, with Martine McMenemy and Eleanor Brown equally game foils as Betty and Judy. While Jacqueline Dutoit's hard-bitten Martha steals the show, it's Chris Stuart-Wilson's choreography, Hilary Brooks's musical arrangements and Adrian Rees's perfectly colour-ordinated set and costumes that give the production its oomph.

On one level, this is a feel-good winter warmer originally designed to ease the post-Second World War fall-out for ex-service-men. As with any showbiz musical, there's also something going on about how the power of song, dance and performance can enliven and inspire a community to rally together. Let's hope the board members of Creative Scotland who were in attendance on opening night got the message.


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