Touring – reviewed at the New Wimbledon Theatre, London
Based on the iconic 1952 musical film featuring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, Singin’ in the Rain has both a great pedigree and a lot to live up to.
Now touring after successful runs in Chichester and at Sadler’s Wells, this joyous show taking affectionate aim at the moment the movies learned to talk is both a homage to its source and an entertaining show in its own right.
Sam Lips takes on the Kelly role as Don Lockwood, a silent swashbuckler whose motto is “dignity”. The gossip columns have manufactured a real-life romance with his squeaky-voiced leading lady, Lina Lamont (Jenny Gayner).
With musical numbers reaching back to the dawn of sound (the title number, ‘Lucky Star’, ‘You Were Meant For Me’, ‘Beautiful Girl’, ‘Good Morning’) this show can’t really date as it is firmly one foot in the past.
The technical aspects are superb from the lighting (by Tim Mitchell) to the water jets which allow Lips to splash around Simon Higlett’s set in the pre-interval number. Even a few rows back in the stalls we got a stray drop or two from a lively umbrella.
The cast are good, too, from the leads to the ensemble. The inclusion of Sandra Dickinson as both gossip columnist and voice coach is amusing given her image in her early career as blonde airhead.
Giving part of the ‘Moses Supposes’ dance number to the male voice coach (Alastair Crosswell) is clever, and Lina’s ear-splitting number ‘What’s Wrong With Me’ proves how hard it is to really murder a song.
I missed Lina’s “I earn more than Calvin Coolidge. Put together!” line from the film, which doesn’t really work with its replacement, and if Lina was really searching for Don at Wally Reid’s party in 1927, she’d be disappointed as Reid died in 1923.
But this is Tinseltown, Hollywoodland (you may recall that the “land” eventually came off the sign) and Monumental Pictures has to save The Duelling Cavalier from ridicule in a land of make-believe.
Enter Cathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch), a hoofer who “the angels must have sent” who makes Don’s heart melt and Lina’s voice bearable. She’s ambitious, but with a dose of reality.
It’s an off-screen love story which sparkles whether in an empty soundstage with fake mist or in the park where even the local hobo has a song to sing.
And there’s Cosmo, faithful friend and comic foil, a role grabbed with both hands by Ross McLaren who can tap dance, clown, and get the crowd’s sympathy. Always in the shadows but crucial to the plot.
Jonathan Church’s production doesn’t really miss: Gareth Owen’s sound design is spot-on; Andrew Wright’s choreography is clever and distinctive; and Ian William Galloway’s video design helps give a glimpse behind the studio glamour.
Singin’ in the Rain is a show to lift your spirits. At the New Wimbledon Theatre all this week to the 2 July, it continues its run through to the end of August. Ticket details here.
Image credit: Manuel Harlan/Johan Persson
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