SINGIN’ In The Rain has launched its national tour in Manchester, appropriately some would say.
It’s a joyous affair, a night of pure indulgence, banished austerity, beautiful and strangely familiar costumes, and even more rain than we saw last month – around 12,000 litres of it we hear.
A friend who accompanied me chose to watch the first act without her glasses on, in the belief that she could pretend she was watching Gene Kelly.
Does anyone not know of the the film? A giant of musical-straight-to-celluloid-theatre, filmed at the point when the genre was in question, it’s generally regarded as the best film musical ever.
This production, born at Chichester Festival Theatre, stays almost entirely true to the film, and then adds to it. It can’t fail.
The story’s familiar. Hollywood silent movie heartthrob, Don Lockwood, has worked his way to fame and fortune alongside a glamorous co-star, Lina Lamont, whom he hates. His long-standing friendship with talented musician Cosmo Brown has helped take his good looks to stardom, while Cosmo provides the emotional and musical support he needs.
Fleeing his over-amorous fans Don accidentally meets Kathy Seldon and quickly falls for her: the one woman he’s met recently who seems unimpressed, even censorious. Their inevitable love story takes place during the transition from silent films to talkies alongside Lina’s calamitous voice and a plot to save everyone’s ‘artistic’ reputations.
Set in the late 1920s and written in the 1950s, the show has an almost surprisingly strong thread of modernity with a celebrity culture bolstered by intrusive press, bullying in the workplace, recourse to litigation, rapid technological advance and a large degree of self-doubt affecting the two stars in the moments when they forget to believe their own publicity.
The cast is superb. The chorus and smaller roles are vibrant, sharp and stylish. Amy Ellen Richardson as Kathy Seldon has a sweet yet strong voice, most effective in the section where she dubs for Lina in Would You.
Faye Tozer, formerly of popband Steps, lights up the beautiful Lina Lamont, an actress for whom silent movies were designed. Faye brings precise comic timing to the role, gets the voice just grating enough to manage parmesan and succeeds superbly in gaining the audience’s sympathy with What’s Wrong With Me. A song that doesn’t appear in the film but which sets Miss Lamont beyond the two-dimensional character we've seen in the movie.
A friend who accompanied me chose to watch the first act without her glasses on, in the belief that she could pretend she was watching Gene Kelly. She gave up at the interval as James Leece is far too tall to permit the illusion. A good Royal Ballet School trained dancer and a competent singer, his performance is solid, endearing at times, His Singin’ In the Rain performance, closing Act one is fluid and captivating without being a straight copy.
But I did miss Gene Kelly’s stocky muscularity in the role. I think it’s invidious to compare stage actors with their movie forerunners, but it’s unavoidable in this case. Sorry James. It must happen all the time.
Stephane Anelli’s Cosmo Brown almost steals the show. The part’s a gift: the non-handsome backroom talent boosting Lockwood’s stardom, Cosmo is written to engage audience sympathy. Stephane Anelli wins this in spades within his first few lines and cements his popularity with the best-timed most-entertaining knockabout song-and-dance number I’ve yet seen on stage with Make Em Laugh, ending with a clever twist on the movie’s run-up-the-wall moment.
The original Singin' In The Rain had a strange start. The song had been used before and someone decided it would be a good title for a film, added the word ‘dancing’ to the last line, and engaged experienced screen writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green to pull together some assorted second-hand songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
Great songs and a tight story produced the well-loved classic. This production, directed with pace and respect by Jonathan Church, utilises the choreographic skills of Andrew Wright and design eye of Simon Higlett to reacquaint the audience with great songs, beautifully danced: Make ‘em Laugh, Good Morning, Moses Supposes and Singin’ in the Rain among the favourites.
A final word for my favourite section Broadway Ballet when the ‘gotta dance’ young hoofer comes to down. Omitted from some stage versions this is almost my favourite part of the film. James Leece shines here in the role of a geeky yet athletic dancer of gradually growing confidence arriving in the big city to start his career. It just needs camera angles to make it perfect and a green dress for Jenny Legg in the Cyd Charisse role. Oddly she was wearing black, was this a costume malfunction?
The show ends with a lively recreation of the main number, a slight audience sing-along and a well-deserved standing ovation. Wander down Deansgate at 10.10pm any night this month and you’ll meet hundreds of smiling people, perhaps whistling a mistimed Good Mornin or singin' their own song in the rain.
Singin’ in the Rain is at the Opera House until Saturday 30 November. Tickets here.
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