Sadler’s Wells, London
August 6, 2021
Released in 1952, the much-loved MGM classic Singin’ in the Rain was one of a raft of films that brought a feel-good factor and exuded positivity as the world recovered from World War II. Jonathan Church’s stage production, originally created for Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011 and now back on stage at Sadler’s Wells, does something of a similar job as we (hopefully) come out of the Covid pandemic. I defy anyone to come out of the theatre not smiling and feeling full of joy; and probably humming the glorious music too.
The show has everything you could want. It’s so good that only once did I find myself harking back and comparing to Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor in the original.
There’s colour, comedy, sweet romance, and wonderful song and dance that just keeps coming. The good story, set in 1927 and that centres around the arrival of the talkies, doesn’t need programme notes (always a good sign). Silent movie star Lina Lamont finds herself on her way out thanks to a screechy and grating Brooklyn accent but not before she fails in a conniving attempt to save her career by having her voice dubbed by Kathy Selden, who just happens to have fallen head over heels for Lamont’s co-star Don Lockwood.
The quietly charismatic Adam Cooper is terrific as Lockwood. His singing is fine if not the greatest, although when he sings ‘You Were Meant For Me’ to Kathy, I suspect he melted quite a few hearts in the audience as well as hers. But it’s his dancing that everyone wants to see; and it remains a dream, even if age has deprived him of some of the height in his jumps. Everyone remembers the title scene. As the rain floods the stage, he bounds through the water with enthusiasm, happily showering those in the front few rows along the way. But, if anything, even better are the romantic numbers where his easy elegance comes to the fore. Cooper taps very well also.
His partnering in his duets with Charlotte Gooch as Selden is a thing to behold. It’s quite marvellous. She balances neatly forthrightness and down to earth confidence with moments of total vulnerability as the couple fall for each other.
Completing the lead trio, Strictly Come Dancing star Kevin Clifton shines as Lockwood’s wise-cracking best friend Cosmo Brown. Like Cooper as Lockwood, he makes the role his own. We all know he can dance but he proves a dab hand at comedy too with some brilliant timing. The two come together marvellously in the high-powered, all-energy, slapstick ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’. His singing is pretty good too.
Faye Tozer plays the crass and selfish Lina Lamont (“People, I ain’t people”), victim of the arrival of talkies, for all she’s worth. She may be the ‘baddie’ but she’s also a casualty of the times and new technology. Yes, she’s overbearing, but she’s never too malicious, and Tozer presents her in such a way that you do feel for her a little.
Elsewhere, Sandra Dickinson has great fun as Dora Bailey, Hollywood gossip columnist reporting from the red carpet; and the tall Cavin Cornwall is perfect as the always trying to the fair studio boss RF Simpson.
Andrew Wright’s choreography is full of invention. The big numbers are filled with fantastic vitality, especially the wing-walking dance and the vividly colourful ‘Broadway Ballet’. The electric tap numbers are especially fun.
It’s all pushed along by the super band under the direction of Robert Scott. Sadly hidden backstage for all but the start of the second act, they bring Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s music to life.
The one number that doesn’t quite work is ‘Good Morning’, which in the film is a riot of brilliant choreography that makes amazingly clever use of its apartment setting. Here, it takes place in a park and while it references the original, it struggles to even get close its ebullience and delight.
I’m also less convinced by the reprising of some numbers. They never have the same impact second time around. ‘Good Morning’, repeated with more than a touch of Charleston at the start of Act 2 by a group of secretaries with telephones, is a prime example. But they are minor points. Bringing the whole cast back for a repeat of the title number as an encore does send everyone away on a big high, though.
Singin in the Rain is spectacular. The cast look like they get on like a house on fire and are having a whale of a time, and we do too. And how nice it was to witness and be part of the liveliness of a full house for the first time for eighteen months. It was a real fun evening that will stay in the memory for a long time.
The standing ovation said it all; and that’s before that big ending and more water splashing everywhere. Yes, did go home grinning broadly; and yes, I was singing to myself too.
Singin in the Rain is at Sadler’s Wells to September 5, 2021. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.