We all know that Manchester has a reputation for enjoying a drop of rain and we’ve also been known to dance on tables and belt out a few songs on an evening out. So, it came as no surprise to see the venerable old Opera House packed to the rafters on a Tuesday night, with an audience eagerly anticipating this touring version of the ‘golden age’ classic musical. They were not to be disappointed with the high quality production values, a great ensemble, superb leads and a beautifully orchestrated score that left me walking up Quay Street hanging off lamp posts singing ‘do de do do,do de do de do do do, I’m singin’ in the rain, just…….’.
The plot, charting the demise of silent pictures and the rise of the ‘Golden Age’ of 1920’s Hollywood ‘talkies’, is well known, less so is the fact that the show was based on the 1952 film rather than the other way around. This stage version only received its London premiere in 1983 starring Tommy Steele and Roy Castle in the roles immortalised by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, but such is the impact of the original movie and especially the genius of Kelly, it is virtually impossible to measure subsequent performances without comparison. However, in this Sadler’s Wells production with Adam Cooper in the lead role, we are in very safe hands. He first played Don Lockwood as far back as 2004, bringing athletic masculinity to the performance in a way that echoes Kelly without resorting to mimicry. Kathy Seldon (Charlotte Gooch) is the object of Lockwood’s affection, originally an anodyne part, Gooch gives her a feisty spirit and charm especially during some of her duets with Cooper (‘Lucky Star’ & ‘Would You’). Completing the leading quartet are Ross McLaren (Cosmo Brown) and Jenny Gayner (Lina Lamont), effectively acting as comic foils to the leads with McLaren having the necessary goofy charm and physical dexterity (yes, the ‘wall flip’ is in there during ‘Make ’em Laugh’), to get the audience onside. Yet it was Gayner who caught the eye most as the ghastly, shrill Lamont, assisted by new additional dialogue, she is both calculating and beautifully dumb and with the addition of a new song (What’s Wrong With Me) in the second act, it is a show stealing performance.
The creative team, led by Director Jonathan Church managed to put a distinctive stamp across the entire production, whilst keeping the spirit of the film intact. So, both parts of the Dream Ballet remain, but are cut down to a level suitable for a modern theatre audience’s attention span; a brisk 6 minutes instead of Kelly’s bloated and self indulgent 13 minute original. Similarly, Designer Simon Higlett moves us from monochrome opening to full Technicolor conclusion with period costumes and Runyonesque heightened reality in the nightclub dream sequence. All of this supports the stunning choreography of Andrew Wright, encompassing ballet, modern and jazz in a dizzying whirl of colour and light. Above all tap dancing is king in this show, the reworking of ‘Moses Supposes’ (my favourite dance number in musical theatre), from a duet to a trio was an unexpected delight for this reviewer. The first act concluded with the eponymous title song, Cooper skipping through a deluge of Mancunian water and gleefully kicking it out onto the shrieking audience whilst ‘Singin in the Rain’. I was bone dry in mid-stalls, but a few patrons got soaked in the expensive seats and no doubt the excess of water on display, added to the extensive first act of 90 minutes, caused a rush to the toilets at the interval!
This is musical theatre done very well, with catchy songs, humour and breathtaking choreography and a cast at the top of their game. ‘Singin’ in the Rain is a guaranteed good night at the theatre and I defy you not to come out humming and smiling at the end.
Playing until 14th May, https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/singin-in-the-rain/opera-house-manchester/
Reviewer: Paul Wilcox
Reviewed: 10th May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★