Singin’ in the Rain

Birmingham Hippodrome

*****

SHOWS don’t come much better than this when you are looking for sheer entertainment.

Based on the 1952 film this is a production awash with catchy, familiar songs, great dancing and choreography, a 10 strong live band, a decent storyline and that all important, iconic dance to the title song in a raining cats and dogs Hollywood downpour.

There is even an encore with the entire cast splashing about in a finale Singin' in the rain routine which probably leaves the first four rows as wet as the cast – this is no show for wimps, on or off the stage.

Ballet-trained James Leece, a West End star who has worked a lot with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, is just superb as Don Lockwood, the silent movie star, played by Gene Kelly in the film, who falls for struggling actress Kathy Selden, played by another West End regular Amy Ellen Richardson who can not only act and dance but has a beautiful singing voice as well.

James Leece as Don, Amy Ellen Richardson as Kathy and Stephane Anelli as Cosmo singin' an' dancin'  in the rain.
Pictures: Hugo Glendinning

When it comes to voices though that prize has go to former Steps star Faye Tozer as Don’s bimbo co-star Lina Lamont. Tozer produces a voice that could crack anvils at 50 yards and when she sang even deaf men cringed. To sing that badly is a difficult task unless you are completely tone deaf, and she certainly isn’t – just listen to her with Russell Watson on Someone Like You – but she managed it magnificently. Her solo, What’s Wrong With Me, was truly, gloriously dreadful. One of the best worst performances you are ever likely to see or hear. . . if you see what I mean. Her accent had the tonal qualities of a creaking gate mixed with fingernails scraping a blackboard which was just the thing the movie industry was not looking for in 1927, when the musical is set, as Hollywood woke up to the new fangled talkies, the basis of the plot.

She believes all the hype and studio publicity about Don and Lina being off-screen as well as on-screen lovers while Don knows it for what it is, spin, and falls for Kathy, a struggling actress who saves him, unwittingly, from a mob of fans.

And flitting around the trio is Stephane Anelli as Cosmo Brown, Don’s sidekick from vaudeville days and now the studio pianist. This was a role that won Donald O’Connor a best supporting actor at the Golden Globes and Anelli provides tremendous support here. 

There is also good support from Maxwell Caulfield as studio boss R F Simpson and the Emmerdale, Casualty and Dynasty star gave us his best Howard Hughes movie mogul to look and sound the part while Paul Grunert gave us the increasingly frustrated director Roscoe Dexter, losing hair tuft by tuft as he realised that the microphone probably had a higher IQ than his star Lina.

Miss Dinsmore, the dialogue coach played by Jacqueline Clarke would probably agree, with Clarke also playing the Louella Parsons style radio show host Dora Bailey.

The original film depended upon screenings of the movie that was being made by Monumental Pictures which are integral to the plot so those scenes are faithfully recreated with flickering, soft focus, 1927 style images on a huge screen.

James Leece as Don with the obligatory lamppost in the Singin' In The Rain dance number

The takes are funny and all add to the action and storyline as the useless Lina threatens to end Kathy's career before it is started by forcing her to work as her voice double.

A dastardly plot is foiled by Don and Cosmo so everyone can live happily ever after - except Lina of course. But as she got cheers at the end she didn't do to badly out of it.

First and foremost though this is a song and dance show, with the original directed, choreographed and starring Gene Kelly and this production doesn’t forget it with plenty of routines that would be at home in MGM’s finest. Cosmo excelled with Make ‘em laugh and there was a fine trio with Cosmo, Don and the dialect coach played by Luke Dowling for Moses Supposes.

Kathy’s You are my lucky star was cut from the original film but restored on DVD releases and is retained in the show, to give her a lovely solo. There are familiar songs such as Good Morning and the Kathy and Don duet You Were Meant For Me as well as out and out dance numbers such as Broadway Ballet with Jenny Legg as the seductive Broadway ballet girl.

There is nothing like a live band and the 10-piece tucked in on a shelf above the studio gates at the back of Simon Higlet’s excellent set, put in a phenomenal shift  under musical director John Donovan. Ten is big by modern touring numbers and it shows with a big sound while Andrew Wright’s choreography is a delight harking back to those glorious MGM musicals of the 1940s and 50s along with some contemporary touches. It is imaginative and sparkling from beginning to end.

Costumes look authentic – although what wardrobe will do with 28 sodden costumes after each performance hardly bears thinking about, it’s either banks of tumble driers or maybe washing lines strung out across Thorp Street like a scene from Call the Midwife.

Don and Cosmo in their early days in vaudeville as Lockwood & Brown

Tim Mitchell’s lighting is effective and clever, adding to the show and it is all pulled together by director Jonathan Church who keeps things moving at a cracking pace; a 90 minute first act is a long time but it just seemed to fly by.

Touring shows often have to make compromises but this brings West End production values out on the road with a cracking show and four leads who really demonstrate what musical theatre and particularly musical comedy at its best is all about.

And as for that downpour? It seems 12,000 litres of water pour down from a bank of sprinklers every show. That’s 2,640 gallons in old money, 15.7 cubic yards of the stuff, and as a spectacle it is worth every drop – and the first four rows or so get their own personal drops to take home with them. This is far more than a mere tribute to a 64 year old film, it is a tremendous, elegant show full of life and fun in its own right - a standing ovation at the end says all you need to know. To 05-04-14.

Roger Clarke

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