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Singin’ in the Rain: The Mill at Sonning’s Christmas Musical | Review

Singing in the Rain - Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Kathy Selden. Photo by Andreas Lambis.
Singing in the Rain – Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Kathy Selden. Photo by Andreas Lambis.

A cast of fourteen plus five musicians provide a rather impressive musical experience for The Mill at Sonning’s Singin’ In The Rain. The evening (or, indeed, matinee) includes a programme and a two-course meal, ensuring audiences really do get value for money when purchasing tickets. Having not visited the venue before, I can’t vouch for their regular menu, but their Christmas offering was very satisfying.

I trust it is not too much of a spoiler to let you know there is both singing and rain (well, ‘rain’ – this isn’t an open-air theatre) in something called Singin’ In The Rain. There’s hope, too, for people like me who have never been able to whistle very well – Philip Bertioli’s Don Lockwood gets away with not whistling at all during the title musical number that closes the first act. Water falls on the stage, but not all of it stays there, and rather like a stand-up comedy gig, one sits in the front row at one’s own risk. (I should point out that the front row patrons are supplied with instructions and waterproof blankets.) As it happens, your reviewer was sat further back and was therefore high and dry, if I may use that phrase in a literal sense. I will leave it to readers to determine if the venue was being kind or a bit of a spoilsport.

Either way, the very best scene is kept for the end of the second half, when all the cast appear with raincoats and umbrellas for an encore of the title musical number – with the narrative wrapped up and no more costume changes to follow (and so on, and so forth), it’s an opportunity for them to go all out and enjoy themselves whilst sending the audience away in a happy state of mind. The production makes much of the show being a set in a Hollywood that no longer exists (that of 1927), bookending it with a contemporarily dressed youngster looking at their mobile phone and playing online footage of the proceedings that unfold during the performance itself.

The choreography (Ashley Nottingham) is often sprightly and enthusiastic, without leaving the relatively small performance space looking too crowded. The space is used well, with the aisles kept busy, functioning as additional stage entrances and exits. Substantial use is made of video projections (the show is, after all, set in a film studio), and some of it is highly amusing, not least because ‘talking pictures’ is still a new phenomenon which the film industry (at the time) is getting used to in every way, including the positioning of microphones and how well they pick up sound.

In the second half, the singing and dancing remains as spectacular as it was in the first, though it starts to feel like filler as the plot occasionally slows its advance to accommodate an energetic routine. Sammy Kelly’s Lina Lamont probably has more justification to feel aggrieved at the actions of the film studio run by RF Simpson (Russell Wilcox) than is perhaps intended. A star of the silent movie era whose voice is supposed to be completely unsuitable for ‘talking pictures’ was only mildly irritating at the performance I attended as opposed to the utter bloodbath the other characters believed it to be.

Otherwise, attention to detail is first-rate. Rebecca Jayne-Davies’ Kathy Selden has one of those gorgeous singing voices that one could sit and listen to for hours, whilst Sorelle Marsh delights as vocal coach Miss Dinsmore. Brendan Cull’s Cosmo Brown is sporadically exhausting to watch – in a good way, particularly in ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, where high-octane gags in quick succession are delivered with panache and precision. A pleasant and delightful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following their acclaimed, record-breaking production of ‘Guys & Dolls’ in 2018, The Mill at Sonning today announces the cast for its 2019 Christmas musical, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, based on the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, with 1,000 litres of water pumped onto the tiny stage at every show.

Set in Hollywood in the waning days of the silent screen era, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ centres on romantic lead Don Lockwood, his sidekick Cosmo Brown, aspiring actress Kathy Selden, and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont, whose less-than-dulcet vocal tones make her an unlikely
candidate for stardom in the transition from silent films to “talkies”.

Philip Bertioli (‘Fiddler on the Roof’ ‘42nd Street’, both West End), Brendan Cull (‘The Book of Mormon’, Spamalot’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘Flashdance’, all West End), Rebecca Jayne-Davies (‘Half a Sixpence’, ‘Jersey Boys’, West End, ‘Pinocchio’, National Theatre), Sammy Kelly (‘Matilda’, ‘Young Frankenstein’, ‘Funny Girl’, West End) head an ensemble cast of 14 that also features Natalie Bennyworth, Oliver Bingham, Connor Hughes, Ella Martine, Sorelle Marsh, John McManus, Jonathan Norman, Heather Scott-Martin, Daisy Steere, Russell Wilcox. They will all multi-role to bring this stripped-back version of the famous story to life.

Full creative team: Director Joseph Pitcher, Choreographer Ashley Nottingham, Orchestrator & Arranger Charlie Ingles, Musical Director Francis Goodhand, Set Designer Diego Pitarch, Costume Designer Natalie Titchener, Lighting Designer James Platt, Sound Designer Joshua Robins.

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ will run for 11 weeks from 30 November, 2019 – 8 February, 2020.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Screenplay by
BETTY COMDEN and ADOLPH GREEN
Songs by NACIO HERB BROWN
and ARTHUR FREED

The Mill at Sonning Theatre
Sonning Eye
Reading
RG4 6TY
Box Office: 0118 969 8000
www.millatsonning.com

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