Is there anyone who hasn’t seen Singin’ In The Rain? Voted the greatest movie musical of all time, it featured the impeccable casting of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds; Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s legendary songs; a screenplay by the award-winning Betty Comden and Adolph Green and some of the finest choreography ever invented.
So, if you’re going to stage just one musical a year then this has to be top of the list. For summer 2016 the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage, has come up with a quality production which makes you wonder why the venue doesn’t do it more often. It would certainly make a change from comedians and one-night tribute acts.
Reviewing a show is always fraught with problems. Every night is different and actors’ performances can vary wildly.
I missed the official press night on Tuesday, due to a clash of shows, so my review reflects what I saw on Saturday afternoon as the musical played to an almost full house.
The reason I’ve added the rider is that there has had to be a change of cast since Tuesday after Simon Anthony, playing the athletic role of comedy sidekick, Cosmo Brown (Donald O’Connor in the film), twisted his ankle.
So I have nothing but admiration for actor Craig Armstrong who now finds himself catapulted into a role which, being blunt – and I hope he doesn’t mind me saying – as a stocky middle-aged man, he’s probably isn’t best suited for.
Formerly playing two periphery roles, the well-built Armstrong, now finds himself having to do the show’s physical gags as well as some of the major set pieces which would test the ability of a 20-year-old gymnast.
During the wall stunt for Make ‘Em Laugh Armstrong ripped his trousers in the most embarrassing of places and later, wisely, left some of the dance steps to leads Mike Denman, as Don Lockwood, and Katie Warsop (Kathy Seldon).
Singin’ In The Rain tells the story of how talkies revolutionised Hollywood. It’s 1927 and handsome screen lothario Don Lockwood has just completed yet another silent film with his on-screen love Lina Lamont.
At the wrap party movie mogul, RF Simpson (Steve Varnom) reveals that another studio is planning to make a film called The Jazz Singer which features sound.
“It’ll never amount to a thing,” someone says, but pretty soon Simpson bows to the inevitable and plans to make the next Lockwood/Lamont romance into a talkie. There’s only one problem – Lina’s voice.
Cameron Leigh almost succeeds in stealing the entire production away from Denman with a knockout performance as the Jean Harlow-esque Lamont. The voice has to be heard to be believed. It’s excruciatingly wonderful.
I’ve never seen an audience react so quickly. After just a few screeches of strangulated dialogue they – uniformly – turned down their hearing aids. Yes, Saturday matinees are notoriously elderly. I thought I was developing tinnitus until I realised I was being bombarded with a high pitched ringing from the theatre’s aids for people sitting around me.
Leigh is a delight as Lina, a peroxide dumb blonde whose innocence is almost overshadowed by her ambition. It is a gem of a part and Miss Leigh makes it her own.
Mike Denman is perfect as the engaging, charismatic Don Lockwood (the Gene Kelly part) although he seemed over-awed by the responsibility of dancing the most iconic routine in the history of musicals.
Tap dancing through a rain curtain is tough and there were times, during the production’s signature number, that Denman was leaden-footed, but he went on, in the second act, to redeem himself with the superbly choreographed and danced Broadway Melody Ballet sequence.
Lockwood’s love interest in the story is an aspiring young stage actress, Kathy Selden, who is drafted in to dub Lamont’s voice.
Katie Warsop’s glorious singing voice is a delight to listen to. As a dark-haired Kathy, she is sweetness personified, charming, down to earth and definitely no pushover for the lovestruck Mr Lockwood.
Beautiful Girls is a big production number, spoilt by the dancers using the smallest feather fans I’ve ever seen, but Good Morning and Moses Supposes are beautifully recreated.
Singin’ In The Rain has an outstanding provenance and director Catherine Lomax succeeds in capturing a lot of the magic from the original. This is a memorable production. You’ll go home humming “Dum de dum dum, I’m singin’ in the rain..” I guarantee it.
Running at the Gordon Craig Theatre, Stevenage until Saturday.
Singin' In The Rain
Singin’ In The Rain, from Gordon Craig Theatre, is a brolly good show that captures the magic of the most iconic musical in history.