Review: Singin’ in the Rain

Trading heavily on our memory of the greatest movie musical, can the stage version splash out on its own?

 

Singin’ in the Rain

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Dublin

****

The biggest problem for an adaptation of the 1952 movie musical Singin’ in the Rain is that the original is pretty much perfect.

Breezy and clever, loving and knowing, lustrously shot and immaculately cast, what more could you hope to add? Jonathan Church’s 2011 revival for Chichester Festival Theatre, here in a touring version, essentially settles for an act of recreation, delivering, perhaps, the long-awaited 3D version.

One of the biggest delights here, though, is to see everything done in a single take. As Cosmo, for instance, Stephane Anelli may not run up the wall into a backflip, but he has to pull off the choreographed slapstick of Make ‘Em Laugh every night – and twice on Saturdays. As a sincere celebration of Hollywood fakery (where James Lecce’s dashing star Don can flip a switch and tell Amy Ellen Richardson’s radiant Kathy that she looks lovely in the moonlight), a stage version might have played more nimbly with theatrical trickery.

Instead, it is dutifully in thrall to the movie, recreating most scenes and costumes, including the rushes from Monumental Pictures’ hurriedly remade The Duelling Cavalier. Such similarity is a little perilous; you judge the show against the original because you’re constantly asked to.

That means we see Leece, Richardson and Vicky Binns’s enjoyably devious, adenoidal Lena less as new interpreters than very good substitutes. It’s the live element, though, that becomes more captivating, such as the brio of John Donovan’s orchestra, nestled high in the arch of Simon Higlett’s set; itself a supple emulation of Hollywood’s golden age. In one winning early sequence, everybody in a park is conscripted into Don’s seduction routine, You Stepped Out of a Dream, as though everyone in Hollywood is an extra. It nails both the spirit of escapism and the rigour behind make-believe in all-new moves.

You’d hardly call the title sequence - an energetic splash-about under 12,000 litres of Hollywood downpour - a damp squib. But next to the vibrant ensemble numbers it seems more static: Gene Kelly had a camera as his dance partner; alone onstage Leece kicks up little tsunamis for company. Choreographer Andrew Wright’s standout moments turn on a different kind of tap, hard stepping through Moses Supposes, letting the central trio shine for Good Morning, while windmill-limbed dancers light up Broadway Ballet in glorious Technicolor.

A showstopper like Singin’ in the Rain is a wise choice to end on. Performed once more by the whole company, it represents the show at its most infectious, and, more happily, its most original. Audiences in the first four rows are advised of the stage version’s biggest departure – and it makes a wonderful splash.

Until May 31