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Singin' In The Rain proves a splash hit at Richmond



Review by David Munro

I MUST admit to a woeful ignorance of the productions by the Barnes and Richmond Operatic Society, now the BROS Theatre Company (BROS for short),which is a shame, as they have a remarkable record of shows they have mounted, ranging from Gilbert and Sullivan to Rodgers and Hart, picking up such lesser luminaries as Sandy Wilson and Maltby and Shire along the way.

Their production of Singin' in the Rain came, therefore, as a very pleasant shock. I must admit that the playing of the overture caused me a few nasty moments, but thereafter it was joy all the way.

As practically everyone knows, the plot of Singin' in the Rain concerns the advent of sound, in Hollywood, and the careers it ruined.

In the tradition of films of that period, little chorus girl meets big star, they fall in love and his attempts to groom her for stardom are nearly thwarted by his bird-brained but vicious co-star.

This stereo-typed plot is ornamented with a series of songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, selected from films of the Thirties and later - most of which were standards in their time, although, had it not been for the film, would have been forgotten by now.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green, successful Broadway playwrights, scripted the film and they have adapted their film script for the stage. This is what BROS chose to delight us with last night.

And a delight it is, the staging of the numbers, which benefited, as do most Am Dram productions, from a large chorus captured the flavour of the early Film Musical perfectly.

In particular, I enjoyed Beautiful Girl, beautifully sung by Billy Conway, who could have substituted admirably for Dick Powell, or Nick Lucas, or, in fact, for practically any other tenor in a Busby Berkeley musical, and which was danced by a bevy of girls whose grace and talent equalled that of the chorines of the period.

The lead, Don Lockwood, was played by Bryan Cardus, who, although he resembled Gene Hackman rather than Gene Kelly, proved himself a more than adequate hoofer, and, in the two big numbers, the title song and Broadway Rhythm dispelled memories of the film sequences.

In fact, while the choreography of Singin' in the Rain approximated that of the, by now hackneyed film version, he made it his own, with a zest and sense of humour which, to me ,was more charming than Gene Kelly's over-professional expertise.

He also has a strong voice, which he used to great effect in both the love songs and the comedy numbers.

As Kathy Selden, the part that made a star of Debbie Reynolds, Hannah Rogers looked charming and danced well, but I thought her voice was tired, particularly during the second act in the scenes where she dubs the voice of Lina Lamont, Don's vindictive co-star.

Lina, herself, is a gift for any comedienne and Maria Waters grabbed it with both hands and squeezed every ounce of humour from the part.

She got, deservedly, an enthusiastic round of applause for her rendition of What's Wrong With Me, as she realises her world is crumbling about her.

Although Lina is a part it is very easy to exaggerate, with its Bronx accent and the gold-digger outlook on life, Ms Waters avoided the traps and made a very amusing, yet rounded, character out of her.

For purpose of plot, Don Lockwood has a humorous sidekick/friend, Cosmo Brown.

Originally sung and danced by Donald O'Connor, it is here played By Jeff Chinappen, who also makes the part his own, and while being very funny avoids the mugging which marred Donald O'Connor's performance.

While not so technically secure a dancer as O'Connor, he none the less dances very well and got well-deserved applause for his Be A Clown routine.

The rest of the characters are ciphers or caricatures, the head of the studio, the director, the radio announcer, the voice coaches, etc but Charles Halford, John Nugent, Lizzie Brignall, Denise Truscott and Edz Barrett all justified their moments in the limelight.

Edz Barrett, in particular, more than held his own in the song and dance Moses Supposes, with Bryan Cardus and Jeff Chinappen proving you don't have to be a principal to be a very creditable all-rounder.

And this, I think, sums up my feeling for all the cast members, they were bright, efficient and a strong supporting team, any of whom could have stepped into the lead in the traditional manner and become a star.

As I have already inferred, the choreography is an integral part of the piece and this was imaginatively staged by Sharon Baker, who succeeded in imparting the right period flavour to her dances and ensembles, without ever falling into the trap of Pastiche.

The same applies to the director, Rachel Moorhead, who kept the action tight and developed the humour and parody of the plot with consummate skill, which resulted in a production that could hold its own against any now playing in the West End.

The only thing that sounded a discordant note (if you will pardon the pun) was the orchestra, under the direction of William Morris. They seemed under-rehearsed but, possibly, this will have been rectified during the course of the week.

This slight cavil apart, I must congratulate BROS on a very handsome and well-conceived production, and one I would gladly go and see again. I await their next one with eager anticipation.

Perhaps they could revive one of the old Stanley Lupino musicals from the Thirties. Bryan Cardus could assume his mantle with ease.

Singin' in the Rain, adapted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, from their film script. Lyricist, Nacio Herb Brown; Composer, Arthur Freed; Director, Rachel Moorhead; Costume Designer, Suzy Deal; Choreographer, Sharon Baker; Lighting, Edward Pagett; Sound, Stuart Vaughan; Musical Director, William Morris.
WITH: Bryan Cardus; Hannah Rogers; Jeff Chinappen; Maria Waters; Charles Halford; John Nugent; Billy Conway; Lizzie Brignall; Anthony Chalmers; Sarah Trotman; Denise Truscott; Edz Barrett; Jake Herbert; David Stratford; Luke Bromley; Kurt Glading; Gavin Morgan; Bob Salter; Hattie Hahn; Mark Burgess; Howard Cowlett; Terrie Creswell; Suzy Deal; Louise Delany; Sheila Donovan; Katie Gagen; Anna Hadfield; Chris Morris; Lynne Shirley; Janet Simpson; Hazel Wellcome; Alan Whitmore; Faye Rogers; Clare Burgess; Sarah Cantrill; Lucy Clement; Jan Croxson; Claire Griffith; Cathy Makepeace; Lisa Rose; Caroline Smith.
Produced by BROS Theatre Company at Richmond Theatre, The Little Green , Richmond, Surrey.
Box Office: 020 8940 0088

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