Book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Chichester Festival Theatre
Manchester Opera House
May 9-14, 2022; 2hr 40min
Audiences for Singin' in the Rain include those who know little more than the iconic Gene Kelly song and dance title-number, and others, like myself, who have watched the film so many times they know most of the lines. The current touring production is a treat for both groups.
The musical remains largely true to the film, thankfully including the plot-essential Broadway Melody dance-dream sequence. But the production doesn’t rely just on the iconic puddle-splashing, love-fuelled rain dance: it is firmly rooted in the film industry that made it, a film industry evolving dramatically as we watch.
It's a tender love story, a romantic semi-comic musical with something for everyone. There’s no real drama, no doubt about the outcome, just great songs, even greater dancing and a necessarily simplified take on a time of opportunity, challenge, success and just a little failure. It’s no plot-spoiler to reveal that everyone – well, everyone who deserves it – gets their wish and looks set to live happily ever after.
Silent-film-star couple Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) and Lina Lamont (Jenny Gayner) are guaranteed success with each new film, their celebrity lifestyle and premiere-arrival interviews pored over by legions of faithful fans who flock to each new opening. It could be the present day, except their prospects are rocked by the success of The Jazz Singer, one of the early "talkies".
Attempts by the studio to add sound to their latest film make them a laughing stock. So Don dreams up a better idea: turning The Duelling Cavalier to The Dancing Cavalier. Unfortunately Lina can’t sing, and her speaking voice is even worse. Luckily, Don has met someone who can sing – beautifully. Don’s friend and supporter Cosmo Brown (Ross McLaren) suggests Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch) is used as Lina’s voice, and all is destined for success – providing the jealous and deluded Lina doesn’t find out. Of course, she does find out...
Performances are strong and entertaining, delivering a quality that ensures nobody is simply waiting for the splashing. McLaren’s rendition of Make ‘Em Laugh plays with our knowledge of the film performance and establishes his character, Cosmo, as a friend and fall-guy and garners audience sympathy. Jenny Gayner, as Lina, shrieks and poses to perfection, eventually commanding some audience sympathy for a woman selected for obvious gifts, until facing rejection when other gifts become essential. The ensemble work is almost perfection.
The key song – 93 years old – arriving at the end of Act 1, is everything you would wish for. Adam Cooper, who came to everyone’s attention as a dry-land male swan in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake revision, can sing as well as dance. He is balletic, of course, and a charismatic splasher. The scene is superb, particularly from Row N...
Cooper can tap dance too, bringing a wide range of dance skills to the Act 2 showpiece Gotta Dance/Broadway Melody sequence, where set and costume designer Simon Higlett's work really shines. A night at the theatre that is everything you expect it will be.
*This Chichester Festival Theatre production tours until August, also visiting Liverpool, Bradford and Sheffield. Adam Cooper, Faye Tozer and Kevin Clifton appear at some venues, with Sam Lips, Jenny Gayner and Ross McLaren otherwise appearing in those roles.
Info and tickets here