Theatre du Châtelet at the Grand Palais, Paris – until 11 January 2018
Fittingly, the reviewing year has ended in the grandest of styles at Paris’ Grand Palais to where the city’s illustrious Theatre du Châtelet have temporarily decamped, reviving their 2015 production of Singin’ In The Rain. A “Grand” venue demands an equally grand show to fill it, and with their sensational company Robert Carsen and choreographer Stephen Mear have done just that.
The musical’s story is a 1952 movie classic that was only ever brought to the stage some 30 years later by Tommy Steele at the London Palladium. But with a libretto crammed with American Songbook greats, an evening here feels like revisiting a masterpiece that’s straight out of Broadway’s Golden Age. The plot is as heartfelt as it is corny, set in the 1920s as silent movies are on the wane. The demand for talkies engulfs Hollywood and Lina Lamont, Monumental Pictures’ starlet silent siren finds herself challenged by her ghastly squawking voice, a sound that is completely at odds with her stunning physical beauty.
Monumental’s leading man Don Lockwood fortuitously meets the beautifully voiced Kathy Selden who agrees to dub Lamont’s vocals. Scheming shenanigans famously unfold, for the most part inspired by Lockwood’s cunning musical accompanist Cosmo Brown, until a happy ending prevails with Selden and Lockwood falling blissfully in love.
Monique Young and Dan BurtonIf a show with such a slight and clichéd story is to speak to a 21st century audience, then its production values can be nothing less than flawless and (by implication) expensive. With the Mayor of Paris happily associated with the show, it appears that the budget has been substantial. Not only has Tim Hatley’s scenery been beautifully designed for the show, the stage itself has been created within the vast, glass dome of the Grand Palais (google the place, you’ll thank me) and it is a credit to both Hatley and the show’s (uncredited) sound designer that the acoustics are perfect. Likewise, Anthony Powell’s costumes are just sumptuous, dripping in period-perfect Flapper-glamour and crafted with minute attention to detail. Wielding the baton, Gareth Valentine (another Châtelet regular) makes magnificent work of Brown’s melodies.
Dan Burton leads as Lockwood. Returning to the role from 2015, Burton is clearly Stephen Mear’s “go to” triple-threat performer. This website has long praised Burton’s talent and in a role that sees him onstage for most of the show Burton makes the most intricate of moves seem effortless, with mellifluous vocals transforming 70-year old tunes into fresh delights. And when it comes to the famous title number, both the Châtelet company and Burton deliver magnificently. The water cascades onto the stage as Burton pays heartfelt homage to Gene Kelly’s immortal routine. A nod too to Jo Morris, who has worked with the company to faithfully recreate Mear’s choreography of two years ago.
Kathy Selden is played by Monique Young who wowed this Paris audience last year as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street. In another display of triple-threat magnificence, Young defines Selden’s tender strength. Her takes on You Are My Lucky Star and Would You? mark her out as a gifted performer of classic numbers, while her footwork (notably stunning in Broadway Melody) is a blur of brilliance.
Emma Kate NelsonPlaying one of the more challenging roles in the canon, Emma Kate Nelson is Lina Lamont. This nasty-girl character could barely be shallower, yet Nelson transforms her into a completely credible creation. Lamont’s one solo number, What’s Wrong With Me, can be a beast to sing for a trained performer trying to preserve her voice as she squawks. Nelson makes it a delight in another example of perfect casting.
There’s excellence too from Daniel Crossley’s Cosmo Brown. Cosmo’s comic responsibilities are critical to the narrative and Crossley’s timing in both physical and spoken humour is spot-on. Make ‘em Laugh and a wealth of other moments all contribute to comedy gold. There are other gems that lurk within this company as Jennie Dale (playing dialogue coach Miss Dinsmore) earns a rapturous whoop of applause for her deft display of tap dance in Moses Supposes.
Daniel Crossley, Jennie Dale and Dan BurtonTheatre du Châtelet have a deserved reputation for excellence in their annual presentation of a classic English language musical – they simply set out to hire, and to produce, the best in the business. If only a UK producer were to one day ship a Châtelet show back across the Channel.