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Singin' In The Rain - Chichester Festival (Review)

Singin' In The Rain

Review by David Munro

THERE can be few who have not seen the movie Singin’ In The Rain, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, on which the show is based.

Devised by Arthur Freed (the producer of most of the musicals of MGM’s golden era) to showcase the songs he and Nacio Herb Brown had written in the previous decade, it was a satire of Hollywood at the period of the advent of sound.

The plot of Singin’ in the Rain was formulated by Betty Comden and Adolf Green, writers of several big Broadway hits, and told how Don Lockwood, a silent star, and his pal, Cosmo, saved a silent piece of hokum by turning it into a musical.

Along the way they had to deal with the leading actress, Lina Lamont, with an ego bigger than California and a voice like a foghorn. All ends well and Don is united with his sweetheart, Cathy Selden, the voice of the future.

This intentionally novelettish plot gives the required opportunities for the cast to sing the Freed and Brown film hits, including You are My Lucky Star, You Were Meant For Me, Would You and, of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

Comden and Green adapted their film script for the stage. This was first seen in London in 1983 with Tommy Steele as Don Lockwood and subsequently, in 1985, on Broadway (with Don Correia in the lead).

Since then, there have been numerous revivals on both sides of the Atlantic, not to mention countless amateur productions.

The production of Singin’ In The Rain now at the Chichester Festival Theatre is a real triumph; it is colourful, well performed and directed, well choreographed and danced and altogether a joy to behold.

Don Lockwood, the nominal star of the show and film-within-a-film, is sung and danced by Adam Cooper, a former ballet star who “crossed over” and has taken the leads in a myriad of musicals, without in any way diminishing the skill and vitality of his dancing.

His singing voice, though, has matured since I first saw him on the musical stage and he now has, for me, the perfect voice, diction and projection that is required for a real Musical star.

His rendition of You Stepped Out Of a Dream was magical and quite outclassed Tony Martin’s original version in the film, Ziegfeld Girl. As did his version of Singin’ in the Rain, where he splashed and danced his way across an inundated stage like a joyous schoolboy ; an interpretation of the number which was a refreshing change from the hackneyed Gene Kelly version (and more enjoyable!).

Daniel Crossley, who plays Cosmo, the Donald O’Connor part in the original film, deserves a triple ‘A’ for his performance. As a singer-dancer-comedian he is an admirable foil for Cooper and their singing and dancing duets together were a delight.

I look forward to seeing him starring in his own show in the not too distant future.

Scarlett Strallen, as Cathy Selden, held her own against the dynamic duo of Cooper and Crossley and sings and dances more ably and professionally than the original inhabitant of the role, Debbie Reynolds.

I had slight reservations over her performance in the first act but these were quite forgotten by her performance in the second, which was magical and, in particular, she made an enchanting partner for Cooper in the Broadway Melody dance sequence.

Lina Lamont, the star you love to hate, was played in far from dulcet tones by Kathleen Kingsley with bravado and panache, well deserving the hand she received at the end.

She also managed a a more sincere moment in her “rendering” of What’s Wrong With Me, showing a more vulnerable side of her hard-bitten character. I did one moment wonder whether, like Jean Hagen in the original film, it was her own voice in the dubbing sequences rather than Miss Strallen’s, which, if it had been, added an additional lustre to her performance.

The rest of the cast were ciphers designed to further the plot which they did well. The chorus was adroit, lithesome and danced with panache; they were ably aided in their efforts by Simon Higlett’s set, which was basically an empty stage with curtains backdrops and props utilised to highlight the plot scenes and then disappear leaving the stage to the dancers who gave full value to Andrew Wright’s choreography.

This, although it tends to recreate the original film numbers in some instances, nonetheless shows an innovative free style in the majority of the numbers without losing the period flavour required by the plot.

As director, Jonathan Church kept the dialogue scenes moving without boring the audience who clearly were anticipating the next dazzling dance scene or musical number.

For this is what the show is in reality; a scintillating series of songs and dance held together by the merest thread of a plot and, thanks to the cast and the production team, it results in one of the most pleasurable couple of hours of theatre seen in a long time.

It restores one’s faith in the basic vitality of the musical comedy which has been seriously undermined by recent shows in the West End.

Once again, Chichester proves how musicals should be produced and this year with the enchanting romance of She Loves Me and now the exuberance of Singin’ In The Rain it has esablished what a fascinating and rewarding a genre ‘The Musical’ is.

Singin’ In The Rain
Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Lyrics & Music – Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown
Director – Jonothan Church
Choreographer – Andrew Wright
Designer – Simon Higlett
Lighting – Tim Mitchell
Sound – Matt McKenzie
Video designer – Ian William Galloway
Fight Director – Michael Rason
Musical Director – Robert Scott

CAST: Adam Cooper – Daniel Crossley – Scarlett Strallen – Marc Antolin – George Ashford – Michael Brandon – Alan Burkitt – Brendan Cull – Flora Dawson – Sandra Dickinson – Jaye Juliette \Elster – Peter Forbes – Gemma Fuller – Francis Haugen – Katherine Kingsley – David Lucas – Mathew Malthouse – Scott Morley – Ebony Molina – Gillian Parkhouse – Sherrie Pennington – Lisa Ritchie – Nancy Wei George – Jack Wilcox.

Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester , West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
In repertory from June 27 – September 10, 2011
Evenings 7.30pm/Matinees Wed, Thurs. & Sat. 2pm
Box Office: 01234 781312