Singin' in the Rain
Screenplay and adaptation by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
Broadway Studio Theatre, Catford
It's pouring with rain again and I feel oddly tempted to rush outside and splash about Gene Kelly-style in the huge puddle that is forming on the corner of the street. Corny I know, but what the heck! Thom Southerland's production of iconic musical Singing' in the Rain has kept a smile on my face despite the crummy Bank Holiday weather.
Unlike many film musicals, Singin' in the Rain is not based on a stage show but was compiled to cash-in on the success of An American in Paris and as a conduit to re-use numbers from the early Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown songbook. Who would have known that a film with such ignoble intentions would end up being considered the greatest Hollywood musical of all time and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the United States Library of Congress?
If there is anything surprising about the fact that this film was adapted for the stage, it is how long it took for it to happen - more than 30 years. The stage version is very close to the original but wisely there is no attempt to recreate the unique "Broadway Melody" dream sequence with Cyd Charisse, whilst the title song obviously remains to challenge technicians and performers alike as the rain sloshes about to the delight of audiences.
This production has much of the feel-good exuberance of the film on which it is based although it does not get off to a strong start. Until "Fit as a Fiddle", the first musical number, it was coming across as well-dressed but unconfident and lacklustre. Fortunately once the energy had been injected it was largely maintained with only occasional lapses of pep between musical numbers.
Betsy Pennington displays real comic timing in the role of Lina Lamont, the silent movie star triple threat in to the talkies who "can't act, can't sing and can't dance". She maintains a strident ghastliness to her voice and an American accent even whilst singing and the voice coach scene is the comedic highlight of the evening. Her solo "What's Wrong with Me?", which is not in the film, provides an additional dimension to her characterisation and she makes the most of it.
Her love interest is played by Shimi Goodman whose leading man good looks lend themselves easily to Don Lockwood. He is appealing, sings and dances really well and carries off "Singin' in the Rain", no mean feat since the routine has entered popular culture from The Morecombe and Wise Show to Britain's Got Talent. It is a highlight though the best routines are the duets and group numbers, particularly "Good Morning".
Kathy Seldon, Don's actual lady love, is played by standout Jemma Alexander. Her Kathy is gentle and charming without being soppy. Alexander is the opposite to the triple threat since she can act, can sing and can dance - all well, seeming extremely comfortable with the fine choreography of Martin McCarthy.
The same could be said of Stephen McGlynn who has the tough job of "Make Em' Laugh" which includes a lot of the original Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen choreography: it's a very complex piece which he performs extremely well. McGlynn's Cosmo Brown has more sex appeal than Donald O'Connor's but just as much wit and it's a shame that he doesn't get more dialogue.
There is good support from the rest of the cast and apart from the noticeable number of fluffed lines the arguments with the piece are more technical: it's a fine idea to light some of the scenes with period spots but not at the expense of actually lighting the actors properly. On the sound side, over amplification of the tap routines from the floor mics threatens to mar the singing.
Aside from a strange blocking choice which had Kathy Seldon so far stage left as to be out of sight at the start of the big love song, director Thom Southerland has done a great job here and he has certainly assembled an excellent cast. He obviously has a flair for putting large musicals in tight spaces. It's been a while since central London got to sing in the rain - Paul Kerryson's production, I think, at Sadler's Wells - though there have been tours on the outskirts. Perhaps this one could follow Southerland's State Fair into the West End?
"Singin' In The Rain" plays until Sunday 23rd May
Reviewer: Sandra Giorgetti