Review of Singin’ In The Rain at the Palace Theatre London
Chatting the other day to one of my churchy contacts, a senior adviser, he told me he did his university thesis on the economics of the theatre. Examining the books of one provincial company, he discovered that comedy was riskiest in financial terms, straight theatre the next and for a sure fire hit, a producer should turn to a musical.
Nowhere can this feel good factor be better apparent than in Singin’ in the Rain. It is amazing that 14,000 litres of water raining on stage with a substantial part splashing onto the audience too, giving a new literal meaning to the phrase “tap dance”, can create such a sense of happiness. Perhaps this is the way to deal with our all too dismal weather outside the theatre, just sing and dance through it all.
Singin’ In The Rain is one of many stage musicals based on movies. Some critics are sceptical when these arrive, wondering about the wisdom of taking stage plays from successful films, but this concern is misplaced. Billy Elliot springs to mind, but then there has also been, and recently, Brief Encounter and The Bodyguard and quite a few more. Sound of Music is coming on at Regent’s Park this summer. And there have been successful conversions of such enduring hits as Mary Poppins, Spamalot, Sunset Boulevard. Apparently there are plans to stage versions of Bend It Like Beckham and even Made In Dagenham.
In the case of Singin’ in the Rain, there is an interesting back-story, in that the film wasn’t very popular to begin with but then, in a reversal of the usual trend, was rescued by admiring critics. Also, of course, the story concerns a movie actor.
The title number sequence is the stand-out moment, and in the old technology of people dancing before your eyes, you have the ultimate in 3D and High Definition, especially with the 4D rain effect. All the performances are electric, from the extraordinarily professionalism of the children up to Adam Cooper himself playing Don Lockwood, his awe-inspiring balletic expertise complemented by the jazz dance and of course tap skills of the rest of the cast, complete with backflips.
The sheer dance skill in particular of actors in today’s modern musicals is on a different level than when the film was made. Not to denigrate those classical stars at all, but the phenomenal technique of the cast from Sylvia Young children such as Jamie Kaye upward to Lockwood himself is simply stunning and so watchable, it takes the breath away. The beautifully complex and perfectly synchronised choreography under Andrew Wright and director Jonathan Church with orchestra led by Robert Scott comes together in such immaculate timing. The watcher is aware that they are witnessing something that seems it must be impossible, yet it is there, happening in front of your eyes. This musical just gets better as it gets older, because of the enduring musical truth that practice makes as close to perfect as is possible to get.
Charles Spencer in the Telegraph, writing when it opened last year, noted that the show’s success is all the more startling because although the famous 1952 MGM movie is perhaps the greatest and most beloved of all big screen musicals, “it made a peculiarly joyless transition to the stage when Tommy Steele starred in it at the London Palladium in the 1980s.” So why does this work so well? For a start, it is very funny. There are some great one liners, plays on the concept of the “triple threat” actor, for example, and certainly this show is full of such extraordinary triple talent with stars and ensemble all outstanding in dance, singing and acting. Standing out in particular were beautiful and fluid Louise Bowden as the endearing Kathy Selden, a powerfully understated performance from Stephane Annelli as Cosmo Brown and the comically brilliant Jennifer Ellison as frightful Lina Lamont.
Many readers will have seen the film of Billy Elliot and been intrigued by, at the end, the adult version of the young star, who makes an all too brief appearance, dancing onto the stage as a fully fledged swan. That grown Billy is the same Adam Cooper who is now on stage in Singin in the Rain. Do go and see him if you can. You will never forget it, and never regret making the effort.
Review by Ruth Gledhill who you can follow on Twitter @RuthieGledhill
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Wednesday 20th March 2013