Suddenly silent films are in vogue again. Just as the Bafta-winning, silent film The Artist is pulling in the crowds (standing room only at my local cinema the night before this show), here is the musical Singin’ in the Rain, arriving in London after a highly successful summer run at Chichester Festival Theatre.
The stories are uncannily similar. Each features a silent movie star who is unable to make the leap into the talkies because he/she cannot speak the dialogue. Film and stage show alike mine the comic potential of the situation to the full, to which the latter adds a generous clutch of hummable songs, high-octane dancing and, of course, rain – lots and lots of rain.
Anybody sitting in the first few rows of the stalls has been warned: take a raincoat, as the water splashes everywhere in the big dance number, made famous by Gene Kelly in the 1952 film. It seems London audiences are regularly to have the chance to get soaked in the stage version of this scene, after revivals at the National Theatre (from West Yorkshire Playhouse) and Sadler’s Wells in the past 10 years, but this production is not just wetter. It has more colour, more life and more panache.
After several series of performances, Adam Cooper’s portrayal of silent movie heart-throb Don Lockwood is well run in. Cooper – a former principal with the Royal Ballet – may not have the best voice in the world, though he sings nicely enough, but he can certainly still dance. To make the most of his experience Andrew Wright’s imaginative choreography blends in a few steps from classical ballet before exploding in all-out hoofing in the second act, by which time the plot is all but forgotten.
The cast has no weak link. The rival queens of the silent movie era are perfectly contrasted, Katherine Kingsley deliciously ghastly as the awful, screeching Lina Lamont who rhymes “girl” with “boil”, and Scarlett Strallen sweet-voiced, but still a woman who knows her mind, as Kathy Selden. Daniel Crossley’s Cosmo Brown is brilliant in “Make ’em laugh”, the first knockout number. After that director Jonathan Church delivers a show that never puts a foot wrong. It could be raining in Shaftesbury Avenue for quite a long time.