Singin' in the Rain
Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Michael Harrison and Jonathan Church , The Chichester Festival and Stage Entertainment
Opera House, Manchester
The heyday of the musical is often regarded as the 1930s when shows offered a reminder of the glitz and glamour of showbiz and so gave brief reprieve from the grim reality of the Great Depression.
Singin' in the Rain pays tribute to this era as the introduction of talking pictures threatens the careers of silent movie stars Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) and Lina Lamont (Jenny Gayner). Although they are publicised as sweethearts, Lockwood resists the efforts of his co-star to be more than colleagues and is attracted to Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch) who seems to be immune to his fame and charms. Cosmo Brown (Ross McLaren), Lockwood’s best friend, proposes the duo’s next picture should not only be a talkie but a full musical but there is a problem—Lina is a triple threat and cannot act, sing, or dance. A suggestion the multi-talented Kathy provide vocals for Lina seems feasible until Lina decides the arrangement should become permanent, thus damaging both Kathy’s career and her relationship with Lockwood.
Director Jonathan Church sets an atmosphere of controlled chaos, which is perfect for the anything goes world of showbiz. The ensemble rush around narrowly avoiding collision and barking out dramatic instructions, which make little sense. Church cannot endure wasting a moment—one of the scene changes features a couple dancing a tango for no apparent reason other than it looks great. The show has a bracingly cynical edge, mainly through Gooch’s world-weary Kathy rolling her eyes at Lockwood’s romantic overtures and snorting at some of the corny lyrics.
Church cheekily exploits the fact many people in the audience will already be familiar with the musical. Ross McLaren not only replicates the famous sequence where Cosmo does a running somersault off a wall, the stunt is telegraphed well in advance with a section of wall wheeled onstage for the occasion. The production is full but not crowded; there is even room for Jenny Gayner’s scene-stealing, excruciatingly funny "What’s Wrong With Me?" sung completely off-key.
Simon Higlett’s set provides a comparison between dour reality and the exciting fantasy offered by the musicals. The background for the show is a massive, grim, grey doorway which contrasts with the bright primary colours of the costumes worn by the cast. The slender plot is exhausted in act one, so the second half becomes one musical set-piece after another. Higlett responds accordingly with a neon-drenched background for a riotous tap dance paying tribute to theatreland.
Choreographer Andrew Wright is not daunted by the fact the original choreography is so well-known, paying tribute to the movie while setting styles which are very much his own. A sexy ballet sequence is sensual and teasing rather than sleazy. The set pieces are stunning; the closing double-bill of "Good Morning" running into the title song is so exhilarating as to leave the audience breathless, so the cast must be exhausted. The closing moment—Lockwood blowing out the light on a lamppost around which he has just danced—perfectly captures the fairy-tale, feel-good mood of the show.
The producers have adopted an unusual approach of alternating the actors playing the main roles in different towns. It is hard not to feel Manchester has got lucky with the outstanding footwork of Adam Cooper. Cooper gives Lockwood the easy charm of a superstar while retaining his innate decency, and he and Charlotte Gooch make the classic, romantic, squabbling couple trying to disguise their mutual attraction. Cooper brings a roguish twinkle to Lockwood, particularly enjoying splashing the front rows of the stalls with some of the 14,000 litres of water which drench the stage.
Singin' in the Rain is the perfect way of forgetting the increasingly grim state of the country and the world at large for a couple of hours and is pure pleasure from start to finish.
Reviewer: David Cunningham