Friday, 6 August 2021

REVIEW: Singin' in the Rain at Sadler's Wells

At university, a friend improved my life in two important ways. Being part American, they showed me the correct amount of ice to put in a glass of Coke (basically it’s all ice). More significantly, they insisted one afternoon we should go to a screening of Singin’ in the Rain, which I’d never seen.

If that’s you, then whatever else you do, don’t think that this show is a nostalgia-fest for people who love the film. It’s fresh, bright, tuneful and funny. If you’re new to the party, this tale set in a Hollywood studio at the start of the talkies in 1927, will welcome you with open arms. 

The plot concerns silent film stars Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) and Lina Lamont (Faye Tozer), whose problems begin when it’s clear Lina’s vowel chewing accent doesn’t match her romantic heroine look. They decide to convert their latest silent movie into a sound musical, with help from Lockwood’s sidekick Cosmo Brown (Kevin Clifton), at which point we discover she’s also tone-deaf, can’t act and can’t dance. As Cosmo says – a triple threat! Cue Lockwood’s new voice-of-an-angel girlfriend Kathy Seldon (Charlotte Gooch) to save the movie by dubbing Lina’s voice. But Lina is not amused and plots her downfall.

Movies love movies about ‘the business’ (for example La La Land, A Star is Born). This love letter to Hollywood also makes fun of its subject and translates brilliantly to the stage. I saw the original stage version at the London Palladium with the great Tommy Steele and Roy Castle, where it ran for over two years and was their longest-running musical to that point. This version lacks some (but not all) of the spectacle of that lavish production. Its grey set is largely un-moving, representing, I suppose, the monochrome world of silent movies and serving to show off the colours of the costumes in the musical numbers (set and costumes designed by Simon Higlett). I think most of the budget must have gone on the famous rain scene. By the way, Adam Cooper takes delight in breaking the fourth wall during the title song, so the front stalls are most definitely in the splash zone.

Kevin Clifton is vocally and, in the theatre at least, visually very passable as a latter-day Gene Kelly, although obviously, it’s Adam Cooper who has Kelly’s role. Clifton, though, displays a surprising gift for the comedy required in the role. The iconic Make ‘Em Laugh routine is a super energetic physical number requiring precision moves and timing. If he does all that and sings live, he can have a bonus!

The revelation was Faye Tozer as the awful Lina Lamont. She was just hilarious with great timing, even getting some extra laughs above and beyond those in the original film both from her verbal delivery and physical performance. 

Jonathan Church directs with a sharp eye on the humour as well as the musical and dance elements. This means the show works equally well as a comedy, a musical and a dance spectacular. Truly something for everyone. A triple threat, in fact!

Review by John Charles 

Rating: ★★★★ 

Seat: First Circle, D 30 | Price of ticket: £90
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