It’s 1927. Silent-film star Don Lockwood (Sam Lips) has it all, a wise-cracking best friend Cosmo Brown (Ross McLaren), fans, hit films and the most beautiful actress in town, Lina Lamont (Faye Tozer) on his arm. Then a chance meeting with a aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch) forces him to re-evaluate himself, just as the movies become the talkies, and everything must adapt or be left behind.
The 1952 MGM classic this was adapted from was directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, and starred Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen. It is perhaps least famous for being the era’s equivalent of a jukebox musical, having been conceived around songs written and released almost two decades previously. However, the film quickly eclipsed the songs’ previous lives, and anyone today will either associate them with this film or nothing at all.
As such, it’s a difficult association to get away from, as this stage production, directed by Jonathan Church, clearly knows, with several expectation subversions, such as Cosmo’s delayed running up of the wall in Make ‘Em Laugh, or Kathy’s performance quietly mocking the corniness of some of Don’s original lines.
With the original still clear in many people’s minds despite seven decades since its release, the superfan may find these differences slightly jarring but they are undoubtedly effective, improving on the original film in some respects. The show definitely makes this classic story its own successfully, with a few new numbers (including one for Don and Kathy’s first meeting “You Stepped Out Of Dream”, a clever re-invention of Kathy’s deleted scene “Lucky Star” and a humorous first and only number for villain Lina, “What’s Wrong With Me?”), gags (CAAAAN’T) building from the original joke and a better integration of the Broadway Melody sequence, amongst other things.
Though Andrew Wright’s choreography cannot replicate the somewhat abusive perfectionism of Gene Kelly (thankfully, most would say), resulting in a few mishaps with props (some forgivable, some, such as the violin-miming in “Fit As A Fiddle” just puzzling), it brings its own stamp to proceedings with its high energy and the performers obvious joy. Simon Higlett’s set design, though indeed sumptuous, must be regularly cursed by the stage-hands frantically mopping over 14,000 litres of water off it during the interval every night.
It is no criticism of Lips or McLaren that they cannot replace Kelly or O’Connor, and it is a testament to the overall show, as well as the performer and those around her, that Harriet Samuel-Gray eclipses the star-making turn by Cyd Charisse.
Thanks to its talented cast and staging, Singin’ In The Rain successfully transposes the classic film to the stage, bringing with it everything that made the original so loved. You’ll laugh, and you may even leave dancing and singing in the rain (weather permitting).
Playing until 30th April, https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/singin-in-the-rain
Reviewer: Oliver Giggins
Reviewed: 27th April 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★