Thursday, 16 February 2012

Theatre review: Singin' in the Rain

A watery mini-theme at the theatre this week, although unlike last night there wasn't much fear of getting splashed in the second row of the Palace's balcony. (Though not marked as such on the ticket, these £25 seats certainly conform to the title of my blog. There's a lot of safety rail to look through, and in this case the busy bobbing heads of the people in front of us to negotiate around. You can't really see the steps at the front of the stage, but the production doesn't use them too much. If you don't mind having to lean forward and look through the gaps in the railings, you can see almost everything. The balcony's most disconcerting element is its proximity to the Independence Day flying saucer that makes up the ceiling and looks poised to attack.)

A previous adaptation of Singin' in the Rain at the Palladium was the first thing my sister saw on stage, and I'm told she demanded to be taken again straight away. So for an early birthday present Jonathan Church's Chichester production from last year, now arrived in London, seemed a good choice. I just hope the new leading man, Adam Cooper, is nicer to the backstage crew than his 1980s predecessor Tommy Steele, and they don't (allegedly) piss in his water tank before the big number.

The birth of the movies seems to be a popular subject for the stage at the moment and Singin' in the Rain takes us to the end of the silent era. Don Lockwood (Cooper) and his leading lady Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) are only a real-life couple for the benefit of the gossip columnist (Sandra Dickinson,) although try telling Lina that. When the talkies arrive, her abrasive Nu Yoik screech of a voice won't do, and Don's real romantic interest, Kathy (Scarlett Strallen) is drafted in to secretly dub her lines. The production's credits list only the original screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, with no script adaptation credited. Perhaps a bit more freshening up could have helped with Don's sidekick Cosmo's (Daniel Crossley) wisecracks, which haven't really stood the test of time - he's gone from "funny friend" to "oh god, it's that friend who thinks he's funny and insists on butting in after every sentence," despite Crossley's enthusiastic efforts. Fortunately most of the rest of the movie has aged better and transferred better to the stage. Due to the nature of the story we do get the odd situation of the best gags being delivered on film, as we see the trial and error in learning this new art form on the hop. Kingsley's harridan of a movie diva is also good comedy value.

Though there's a number of familiar songs ("Good Morning," "Make 'em Laugh,") of course the title song overshadows them all, and as show-stoppers go there's no mystery why this is a popular film to recreate live: As the thunder rumbles in anticipation of the big number there's palpable excitement in the audience, which breaks out into gasps as the heavy floods of water arrive - Cooper having fun splashing the front of the stalls. He's certainly succeeded in turning himself from ballet star to musical theatre lead, and Penny was impressed by his voice, and wouldn't have known this wasn't his original speciality. She loved the show in general and even got tearful at the title song - though she thinks that's mainly due to the associations it has for her. Strallen is a strong and likeable leading lady and the show is generally well-cast. It takes a while to warm up and there's a big dance number in the second act that feels like filler and saw both mine and Penny's attention wander; but for the most part Singin' in the Rain is a successful crowd-pleaser.

Singin' in the Rain by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed is booking until the 29th of September at the Palace Theatre.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes including interval.

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