CFT Away from Home
Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen
Singin' in the Rain
Based on the MGM film Screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
4 Feb 2012 - 1 Sep 2013
It’s the roaring 20’s and silent movie stars are the biggest names in the world. Don Lockwood has it all, a string of hit films and a studio-engineered romance with the most beautiful actress in town. But with the new phenomenon of the talking picture on the way and a chance meeting with a talented young chorus girl set to steal his heart, things are about to change for Don and for Hollywood forever.
'This is a show that genuinely makes you feel better about life.'
Five Stars, The Daily Telegraph
Hailed by critics as the ultimate feel-good show, Singin’ in the Rain “genuinely makes you feel better about life” (Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph).
This stage version of Singin’ in the Rain was terrific when it opened during a torrential downpour in Chichester last summer. And it is even better now on its transfer to the West End, the perfect, potent pick-me-up in these apparently interminable grey days of anxiety and gloom.
If it doesn’t send you dancing down the Charing Cross Road with an inane grin of pleasure on your face, then I can only guess that you are in the vile grip of clinical depression when nothing can lift the spirits.
The show’s success is all the more startling because although the famous 1952 MGM movie is perhaps the greatest and most beloved of all big screen musicals, it made a peculiarly joyless transition to the stage when Tommy Steele starred in it at the London Palladium in the 1980s. A little of Steele’s grinning charm goes a very long way, and that laborious production almost entirely missed the film’s charm and effervescence.
In Jonathan Church’s splendid staging, however, with thrillingly inventive choreography by Andrew Wright that though clearly inspired by Gene Kelly’s original routines often takes off in startling and delightful new directions of its own, the show offers almost three hours of continuous pleasure.
The story of the arrival of the talkies in Hollywood is all the rage at the moment with that captivating film The Artist poised for Oscar glory, and if Singin’ in the Rain lacks the beguiling subtlety and sly wit of that new movie, it more than makes up for it with its broad buoyant humour, generosity of spirit and delightfully tuneful score.
Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s script is full of great gags and moments of deeper feeling, and this stage version makes brilliant and hilarious use of specially filmed footage of the movie the characters are supposedly making.
The cast is terrific. It can’t be easy following in Gene Kelly’s magisterial footsteps, but former Royal Ballet star Adam Cooper brings a mixture of charm, humour, nonchalance, and spectacularly fleet feet to the role of Don Lockwood which confirms him as a major new star of the musical stage. He sings with great feeling too and exudes the kind of charisma that can light up a whole theatre.
Scarlett Strallen combines sweet innocence with a touch of poignancy as his beloved Kathy, and Daniel Crossley offers terrific comic value in the best-friend role of Cosmo, bringing all kinds of inventive new sight gags to the great comedy number Make ‘em Laugh.
There is also a blissfully funny performance from Katherine Kingsley as the bitchy platinum blonde film star Lina Lamont whose career is jeopardised by the arrival of the talkies thanks to her hilariously squeaky, screechy Noo Yoik accent.
Kingsley’s ability to combine pathos with vicious malevolence strikes me as little short of miraculous, but then the whole show is something of a miracle, not least the spectacular staging of the title number which has the audience purring with pleasure and leaves those sitting near the stage very wet indeed. This is a night of sheer delight.
When Jonathan Church's production of Singin' in the Rain opened in Chichester last summer it brought the reviewers out in a fevered rash of five star raves.
I missed it at the time, alas, though I yield to no one in my admiration for the Festival Theatre's amazing recent track record with musicals including Stephen Mear's enchantingly witty and brilliantly choreographed chamber-staging in Minerva Studio last spring of She Loves Me, the cult favourite by the authors of Fiddler on the Roof which, in any just world, would also have transferred to London.
In the circumstances, the four stars on the top of this notice might look a tad curmudgeonly. So let me be clear from the outset that I think the production contains sequences as rapturously enjoyable (the choreography by Andrew Wright is as electric as any I have seen in a stage musical – not least the title song and its finale reprise (of which more later). What mars the show, for me, is that there are places where the desire to do nothing if not knock the audience dead again and again brings in a faintly metallic and driven feel to the proceedings. Unless watched carefully, virtuoso song-and-dance can develop a harshness that obscures the heartfelt. In some of the numbers – especially an elating-beyond-belief rendition of “Moses Sipposes” and “Good Morning, Good Morning”, performed by Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen, and Daniel Crossley as the central trio – the astonishing feats of varied tone and dynamics, of seamlessly segueing between different modes and moods of dance within the one song feel like the euphoric outpouring of uncontainable joy from within the characters. But there are other numbers where it feels more like a “medley” and producers’ overkill. So when “Good Morning, Good Morning” is reprised at the start of the second half by a bevy of Charlestoning secretaries at the Hollywood production company offices, in a tangle of archly angled telephone wires, it’s comparatively flat because it comes across as emotionally inorganic and tending towards the Busby Berkeley end of the scale.
The show is based, you’ll have guessed, on the much-loved MGM musical. I won’t, though, be able to watch Gene Kelly stomping in puddles ever again without feeling too dry and bit excluded. Making a bigger and live splash, Adam Cooper boots great sprays of rain water over the over the stalls in a blissful baptism of theatrical H2O. Enchantingly he beomes lk a mischievous little boy in the giddiness of his love,. This is Billy Elliot grown up and regressing. The band pounds out precision playing. Katherine Kingsley though funny, is too much of a drag act for my taste as Brooklyn-accented dinosaur Lina Lamont. There is such crush at the intervals at the Palace that I think that the management should put Mr Cooper in a trough of white wine in the downstairs. Boot it in this direction, Adam!
There is surely no finer movie musical than Singin' in the Rain. And naturally it's the title number that springs to mind - Gene Kelly skipping along a sodden pavement and stamping in giant puddles.
The stage version, first presented in 1983, can't eclipse memories of the film. But Jonathan Church's deft new production, launched at Chichester last year, certainly makes a splash.
The action is set in Twenties Hollywood, as talking pictures are superseding silent ones. Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are stars whose careers are in jeopardy as a result of The Jazz Singer, a "talkie" which heralds a new approach to cinema.
For Lina this poses a real problem, as her voice (previously known only to industry insiders) is gratingly squeaky. If fans get wind of this, her days as a diva are over. So, when her latest effort has to be transformed into a talkie, emerging talent Kathy Selden covers for Lina's strangulated vocals.
Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green introduce a distinctly satirical edge as they send up the transience of fame. There's also plenty of zest in Nacio Herb Brown's music and Arthur Freed's lyrics.
The favourite songs are generously rendered: Good Morning, Moses Supposes, and of course the title number, during which the front five or six rows of the audience get liberally splattered. This could be irritating, yet actually it's exhilarating, and the infectious brolly-twirling glee makes a welcome return at the curtain call.
Adam Cooper is likeable as Lockwood, with fantastic dance skills. There's engaging work from Daniel Crossley as pal Cosmo. Katherine Kingsley has an irresistible comic touch as Lina, and Scarlett Strallen radiates warmth as Kathy.
There are neat performances in supporting roles notably Michael Brandon as a studio boss, elegant design by Simon Higlett and ingenious video by Ian William Galloway, which draws some of the biggest laughs.
It's crowd-pleasing stuff. The memory of Gene Kelly may not be banished, but this is a buoyant revival, lit up by Andrew Wright's superlative choreography.
No one is going to rain on the parade of this staging of the 1952 film, which moved into the West End this week.
If they did, there could certainly only be two outcomes: singing and dancing. And a good deal of it, too.
Jonathan Church’s production was a huge hit in Chichester last year and it’s looking as good as ever. That is no mean feat because it’s a technically demanding show.
It features a deluge of formation dancing, tumultuously choreographed by Andrew Wright. And there is black-and-white film footage to go with the story about the transition from silent movies to talkies in the Hollywood of the Twenties.
Which isn’t even to mention the downpour of chlorinated Thames water for the title number.
I’m honest, the stage show doesn’t offer anything the film doesn’t.
Except that it’s live. And, as a live performance, it’s hugely energising.
Adam Cooper, as the lead Hollywood star of the story, isn’t exactly drenched in Gene Kelly charisma - he looks a bit like a handsome policeman.
But he can certainly dance, and when his big moment comes he isn’t so much singing in the rain as surfing, kicking up spray in all directions.
Front of stalls: bring your macs! Daniel Crossley is the reincarnation of Norman Wisdom as Cooper’s clowning, cheeky chappy partner Cosmo Brown. Crossley is an equally accomplished dancer, and their tap routines together are a joy to behold. But, for me, the leading ladies stole the show.
Katherine Kingsley, as the squealing Lina Lamont, is a ‘New Yoik’ lamb led to the inevitable slaughter of talking films. She has a singing voice like nails dragged down a blackboard.
And her elocution lessons are like listening to feedback on a microphone. It takes real talent to sound this shocking.
But the undisputed star is Scarlett Strallen, who is the spit of Debbie Reynolds from the film. She has a voice like mountain spring water — and her legs aren’t bad either.
All this in front of an audience desperate to pop open their brollies and splash around in the title tune, and the producers have one of the hits of the year. Come on in: the water is fine.
Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1
BOOK BY PHONE: 0844 412 4656 (24 hours, booking fee)