Don’t think that this show is a nostalgia fest for people who love the film. It’s fresh, bright, tuneful and funny. If you’re new to the party, this tale set in a Hollywood studio at the start of the talkies in 1927, will welcome you with open arms.
Silent film stars Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) and Lina Lamont (Faye Tozer) have problems with converting their latest movie to sound. Lena’s vowel chewing accent doesn’t match her romantic heroine look. With help from Lockwood’s sidekick Cosmo Brown (Kevin Clifton) they decided to add music as well, at which point we discover she’s also tone deaf, can’t act and can’t dance. As Cosmo says – a triple threat! Fortunately Lockwood’s new girlfriend Cathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch) saves the movie by dubbing Lina’s voice. But Lina is not amused and plots her downfall.
All this translates well enough to the stage. But I saw the original stage version at the London Palladium with the great Tommy Steele and Roy Castle, where it ran for over two years and was their longest running musical to that point. This version lacks much of the spectacle of that lavish production. Its grey set is largely un-moving, representing, I suppose, the monochrome world of silent movies. It is also more practical for a touring production, which this is. The area to collect and recycle the water from the rain scene is part of the set throughout, rather than a separate moving part. Adam Cooper takes delight in breaking the fourth wall during the title song, so the front stalls are most definitely in the splash zone. The grey scheme does, though, serve to show off the colours of the costumes in the musical mumbers (set and costumes designed by Simon Higlett).
The show opens with a rather too lengthy plot exposition from Hollywood gossip columnist Dora Bailey, made to work thanks to the sparkly presence of Sandra Dickinson in the role. But it consists simply of members of the ensemble walking onto the stage. The first proper number is the comedy duet Fit as a Fiddle, but in a theatre musical I’m looking for something to set the tone rather more emphatically. Things really only came alive when we got to Moses Supposes, which is more than half way through the first act.
Kevin Clifton is vocally and, in the theatre at least, visually very passable as a latter day Gene Kelly, although obviously it’s Adam Cooper who has Kelly’s role. Cooper is effortlessly charming and nimble on his feet. Clifton, though, displays a surprising gift for the comedy required in his role. I suspect, though I may be wrong, that in the iconic Make ‘Em Laugh routine he mimed to his own track, though, this being a super energetic physical number requiring precision moves and timing. If he does all that and sings live he can have a bonus!
The revelation was Faye Tozer as the awful Lina Lamont. She was just hilarious with great timing, even getting some extra laughs above and beyond those in the original film both from her verbal delivery and physical performance.
Jonathan Church directs with a sharp eye on the humour as well as the musical and dance elements. This means the show works equally well as a comedy, a musical and a dance spectacular. It’s not breaking any new ground, but the reaction of the audience to the classic jokes in the script showed how well they’ve stood the test of time and how much better they work with a live audience to share the experience.
Singin’ in the Rain is at Sadlers’ Wells Theatre, London until September 2021 and then on tour.