One tampers with Singin’ in the Rain at one’s peril.
On achieving a certain maturity most sensible people (and the Whingers) come to accept that it is arguably the greatest movie musical ever made. So this theatrical version – like any other – sploshes down on the stage of the Palace Theatre from Chichester with an awful lot of soggy baggage.
And strangely enough it was a piece of baggage (a small valise to be specific) that proved the turning point in the Whingers’ evening.
We have no complaints about Jonathan Church‘s production being unfaithful to the film (book Betty Comden and Adolph Green who adapted their original screenplay): all the classic songs (lyrics Arthur Freed, music Nacio Herb Brown) are in place just as they should be and yet the Whingers found the first half hour or so, well, frankly extremely lacklustre to say the least.
Then something happened to elicit an approving nod from both Whingers: Daniel Crossley (playing the Donald O’ Connor role of Cosmo) performed ‘Make ’em Laugh’ and did a rather impressive piece of mime with a suitcase. And with that minor moment the Whingers mentally donned their wellies, hitched up their hems and tentatively joined in the splashing about.
There must still be someone out there who hasn’t seen the film, so for that one person bear with us, we must explain that S’ITR is set in Hollywood at the moment that silent movies were giving way to the talkies. Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) and Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) are big stars but with the success of The Jazz Singer it is decided their new film must be a talking picture too. But unfortunately Lamont has a voice that is so grating it could easily polish off a very old block of parmesan…
As silent film is in vogue again with The Artist set to sweep up at the Academy Awards as it did at last night’s BAFTAs and ahem, Travelling Light at the National, you might think audiences are beginning to appreciate silence. You would be wrong. This is the sort of show that attracts people who like to delve into their bags of sweeties with complete disregard to those around them. Poop.
Several rather splendid excerpts of The Duelling Cavalier, the film (video design Ian William Galloway) in production, are projected for our amusement. One clip displays a dialogue card “I think I hear footsteps”, which couldn’t have been more timely coinciding as it did with much scurrying around the Palace’s auditorium. For reasons best known to the producers S’ITR has plumped for an early start time of 7pm on Mondays and Tuesdays and presumably many punters were unaware of this. The result was swathes of latecomers during the first half hour and ushers chatting with them at the back of the auditorium. There was more shushing than ushing as Phil was forced to take action.
Once the show and the audience settled down there was much to appreciate. Very decent interpretations of “Moses Supposes”, “Good Morning” and “Would You” amongst others and functional enough choreography (Andrew Wright) with lots of Whinger-pleasing tap dancing. We assume that by the time it opens the aviators – who were all over the shop during “Beautiful Girls” – will be in step.
Then there’s the rain during the title number, which, for obvious reasons, falls just before the interval and is most spectacularly realised. An interesting article with designer Simon Higlett talking about the technicalities of the rain (and other on stage moisture) can be found here (incidentally, did you know that radio mics and their sensitivity to water are what did for panto slosh scenes? Eric Potts told us that).
Anyhoo as the rain did fall Phil couldn’t help but think of the famous – probably apocryphal, but we live in hope – story about the rain tank above the Palladium stage when Tommy Steele created the first stage version of Lockwood. For once the Whingers were pleased not to be sitting in the front few rows; Cooper kicks the water around playfully showering the audience. It’s a pity it couldn’t have dampened down others in the theatre earlier.
Interval entertainment is provided if you lurk around in the auditorium to watch the mopping up. There’s no sign of the safety curtain coming down to mask it, though, with the sprinkler system already given a healthy airing, perhaps there’s no need. Andrew marvelled at the speed and effectiveness of the stagehands’ squeegees and wonder why they don’t sell branded mops as merchandise rather than £18 T shirts, £30 umbrellas and £4 lanyards. The moppers (or perhaps the mops), quite rightly, received a round of applause when they finished. With a distinct whiff of chlorine during the number this must be the cleanest stage in the West End.
Cooper has charm and of course the dancing skills, if not quite a strong enough singing voice for Don. The wonderful KK is hilarious as LL and the talented Strallen clan is magnificently represented by Scarlett, forcing the Whingers to gush even more than the rain effects: her Kathy Selden is graceful and delightful, sings beautifully and is utterly beguiling whilst making it all look effortless. Enchanting.
Andrew drizzled out some uncharacteristic and somewhat unseemly excitement when he spotted David Tennant’s mother-in-law Sandra Dickinson‘s name on the poster outside the theatre, though during the performance his prosopagnosia came out of remission as he failed to recognise her, instead spotting Nicholas Hytner hoofing up a storm, though rather disappointingly this turned out to be Daniel Crossley.
Studio Head R F Simpson is gamely performed by Dempsey & Makepeace‘s Michael Brandon; Andrew had no problems confusing him with the gay porn actor of the same name because, as you might expect, he is innocent of such matters.
Despite a wonderful colour palette of costumes and some nice choreographic tricks Act 2’s ‘Broadway Melody’ remains over-faithful to the film in going on too long and being the number we’d cut to move this most agreeable showbiz tale along. But then Act 2 would be rather short and since the interval is immovable we must live with it.
But the show closes on such a high, with one of the best curtain calls we’ve ever witnessed, that Andrew was stirred to give an impromptu tap dance as he left the theatre. And if you’re wondering what Phil thought of Andrew’s brief but tantalising terpsichorean display he must report that Andrew seemed even lighter on his feet than usual.
The Whingers’ Singin’ in the Rain tickets were generously donated by Cheap Theatre Tickets