Singin’ in the Rain [Palace Theatre London]

Singin’ in the Rain
Chichester Festival Theatre production of the musical based on the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film; songs with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown; screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Green

Don Lockwood – Adam Cooper
Kathy Selden – Scarlett Strallen
Cosmo Brown – Daniel Crossley
Lina Lamont – Katherine Kingsley
R F Simpson – Michael Brandon
Roscoe Dexter – Peter Forbes
Dora Bailey / Miss Dinsmore – Sandra Dickinson
Production Tenor / Diction Coach – David Lucas
Olga Mara / Broadway Ballet Girl – Ebony Molina
Rod – Brendan Cull
Zelda Zanders – Nancy Wei George

The Orchestra/Phil Cornwell

Jonathan Church – Director
Andrew Wright – Choreographer
Simon Higlett – Designer
Tim Mitchell – Lighting Designer
Matt McKenzie – Sound Designer
Ian William Galloway – Video Designer
Bill Butler – Costume Supervisor
Robert Scott – Musical Supervisor
Larry Blank – Additional Orchestrations

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 18 February, 2012
Venue: Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London

The original film of Singin’ in the Rain was not an out and out success when first released in 1952. It was a product of the Arthur Freed Unit at M-G-M, and just one of many musicals that were created at the time. No one expected it to be a smash hit, although it did recoup its outlay and went into profit. It was years later that it became regarded as one of the finest of M-G-M’s musicals, if not one of the best films to come out of Hollywood. Today it is seen as a major classic, a pinnacle of the movie-musical genre and also a canny and satirical swipe at Hollywood itself, showing how cunning and venal it could be.

The Freed Unit at M-G-M produced all of the studio’s famous musicals from 1939 to 1960. Having worked as associate producer on The Wizard of Oz, Freed was then given his head out of which first came Babes in Arms with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney to be followed by over forty classic musicals including Strike Up the Band, For Me and My Gal, Girl Crazy, Meet Me in St Louis, The Harvey Girls, Ziegfeld Follies, The Pirate, Easter Parade, On the Town, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, An American in Paris, The Band Wagon, Silk Stockings, Gigi, and Bells Are Ringing. Plus Singin’ in the Rain. Freed was responsible for advancing the careers of Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, June Allyson, Howard Keel and Ann Miller.

Freed was no mean songwriter either, the author of the lyrics for ‘You were meant for me’, ‘Wedding of the painted doll’, ‘Beautiful girl’, ‘Temptation’, ‘All I do is dream of you’, ‘Broadway rhythm’, ‘You are my lucky star’, ‘Good morning’ and ‘Make ’em laugh’, all written with Nacio Herb Brown. For Singin’ in the Rain he raided his back-catalogue for a clutch of songs that fitted perfectly alongside the witty screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The plot concerns the transition in 1920s’ Hollywood from silent films to talkies.

R. F. Simpson, studio head at the fictitious Monumental Pictures, is forced to reshoot his latest blockbuster, The Duelling Cavalier, as a musical called The Dancing Cavalier with his top stars Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen), with added sound instead of the usual intertitles. When they get down to recording it, they realise that, although a gorgeous looker, Lina Lamont can only squeak rather than speak or sing her lines. This predicament is based on such as Norma Talmadge and John Gilbert whose careers did not survive the transition from silent to sound.

Lockwood’s vaudeville buddy Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor), employed by the studio as a mood-music pianist, comes up with the idea of dubbing the voice of Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) whom Don has fallen in love with, despite the protestations of Lina who thinks she is an item with Don. The plan works until the audience at the premiere insists that Lina sing. Against her wishes Kathy provides lip-sync for Lina until the curtain opens to reveal the real singer. Cue for reprise of the title song, with kisses for Don and Kathy and happiness all round.

Although the finished picture featured Kelly, O’Connor, Reynolds and Hagen, it might have been Howard Keel, Oscar Levant, Judy Garland and Judy Holliday. The writers changed Don Lockwood from cowboy star to song-and-dance man – so, enter Kelly; the Cosmo Brown role was based on Oscar Levant, but it eventually went to O’Connor; the Kathy role was offered to Garland as well as June Allyson, Jane Powell, Kathryn Grayson and Leslie Caron, but co-directors Kelly and Stanley Donen insisted on Reynolds. Judy Holliday turned down Lina but suggested her understudy for Born Yesterday on Broadway, so Hagen secured the role. All the right people were chosen and you cannot imagine the film going any other way.

Thirty-something years later, the film was adapted for the stage. It opened in 1983 at the London Palladium with Tommy Steele both starring and directing, with Roy Castle as Cosmo, Danielle Carson as Kathy and Sarah Payne as Lina. It ran for over two years. Subsequent productions followed on Broadway in 1985-86. Steele directed the 1994 UK tour with Paul Nicholas in the lead. The National Theatre revived the show in 2000, a transfer from the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Another revival opened at Sadler’s Wells in 2004 with dancer Adam Cooper who also appeared in the show at the Leicester Haymarket. Last year (2011) the Chichester Festival Theatre mounted a new production which has now transferred to the West End, again with Adam Cooper.

Cooper is a product and ex-member of the Royal Ballet School. He then joined Matthew Bourne’s Adventures in Motion Pictures for the groundbreaking Swan Lake and Cinderella. He ventured into choreography and has lately concentrated on musical theatre, re-working such shows as On Your Toes, Grand Hotel, Side by Side by Sondheim, Carousel, and Singin’ in the Rain. He has also appeared in On Your Toes, Guys and Dolls, Zorro the Musical and The Wizard of Oz. Cooper’s diverse work has turned him into a very talented song-and-dance man and an asset to musical comedy. Cooper can sing, dance and act. His dancing recalls the skills of Kelly and Fred Astaire. As Don Lockwood he comes into his own in the extended Broadway Melody routine and in the title number.

The song ‘Singin’ in the rain’ has acquired cult status and any number of references, tributes, send-ups and pastiches. Nods and winks have been seen in A Clockwork Orange, Revenge of the Pink Panther, Legal Eagles, Luc Besson’s Léon, and Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Knights, while on television it has been evoked by The Simpsons, Sesame Street, The Muppet Show, The Wombles, The Goodies, and Last of the Summer Wine. The most popular tribute came from the Morecambe & Wise version which, like their take on ‘There is nothing like a dame’ from South Pacific, is indelible.

At the Palace, the front rows get two chances of being splashed, at the end of Act One and in the finale. It offers Don Lockwood a way of forgetting his troubles with Lina and liberating himself under the falling rain. Cooper gives his all and looks as if he’s enjoying the emancipation. Great support comes from Daniel Crossley as Cosmo, a good foil for Don, even if he’s not required to do all the acrobatics that Donald O’Connor managed in the ‘Make ’em laugh’ number – but then he had to retreat to hospital after the filming was over. Scarlett Strallen is just right as the ingénue Kathy. Katherine Kingsley is hilarious as the appalling Lina. While most of the original dialogue survives, I noticed one change. Instead of saying “I earn more money than Calvin Coolidge – put together!” Lina announces she has “more money than the Warner Brothers – and all their sisters – put together!” Maybe they think no-one will remember the US President when talkies were new.

The ensemble is on top form in Jonathan Church’s fast-moving production that is superbly well-endowed with the élan and panache of Andrew Wright’s non-stop choreography. Robert Scott’s band, perched high above the performers, achieves a big, big sound. This one will run and run for: it has ‘hit’ written all over it.

  • Singin’ in the Rain is at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1
  • Monday & Tuesday 7 p.m.; Wednesday to Saturday 7.30 p.m.; matinees Wednesday & Saturday 3 p.m.
  • Tickets on 0844 755 0016 / 0844 412 4656

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