Singin’ in the Rain*** (Upstairs at the Gatehouse)

Posted: December 21, 2014 in Theatre

Singin-In-The-Rain-Color-Singin-In-The-Rain-ColorThis review was originally written for The Public Reviews:

Stage productions of this classic 1951 MGM musical seem to come round almost as regularly as rainy Summers, yet all of them must have to face up to the same conundrum – how can you top something when a definitive version is already out there and nearly everyone has seen it? The usual approach is to stage it at a big theatre as a song and dance spectacular, featuring a torrential downpour for the big number. Director Robert Plews goes in the opposite direction in this 100 or so seat pub theatre, using a company of just 12 and a six-piece orchestra. The setting is Hollywood in 1927 at the dawn of the talkies. Silent movie star Don Lockwood is happy to make the transition, but his squeaky-voiced on-screen partner Lina Lamont is completely unsuited, leaving the door open for rising starlet Kathy Selden, with whom Don quickly becomes smitten. A big problem for any production of this show must be the clunky first half hour which has little music and only serves to establish the plot. This problem is made more difficult for Plews because of the theatre’s configuration – an oblong stage with the audience seated on either side. This results in the characters often seeming remote from each other, whilst awkward scene changes interrupt the show’s rhythm and flow. However, once the dance routines get going, the configuration works in the production’s favour, enhancing the excitement generated when dancers and audience are within touching distance. The romance between Don (Simon Adkins) and Kathy (Frankie Jenna) is a tepid affair, with familiar but rather trite songs injecting little life into proceedings. The weight of the comedy falls onto the shoulders of Thea Jo Wolfe, delightfully coarse as Lina, and Paul Harwood as Don’s breezy sidekick Cosmo. Midway through the first half, it is Harwood who kick starts the show with his pratfalling rendition of Make ‘Em Laugh and, when he and Adkins put on their tap shoes for Moses Supposes, the audience is at last getting what it has come to see. Adkins closes the first half performing the iconic title song sequence, pulling it off with considerable panache. He, Jenna and Harwood excel, singing and dancing their way through Good Morning and the other highlight of the second half is a glorious company tap dance routine to Broadway Melody in which Chris Whittaker’s imaginative choreography makes full use of the restricted space. To be honest, the screenplay/book for Singin’ in the Rain was never that hot anyway and, if Plews’ production works best with song and, even more, dance, he has probably got his priorities right. A colourful array of umbrellas closes the show as the company reprises the title song, ensuring that the tune which everyone came in humming is also the one ringing in the ears on leaving. A good fun evening.

Performance date: 19 December 2014

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