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- Title: Singin’ in the Rain
- Book by: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
- Music by: Nacio Herb Brown
- Lyrics by: Arthur Freed
- Director: Jonathan Church
- Choreographer: Andrew Wright
- Actors: Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch, Alastair Crosswell, Faye Tozer, Michael Brandon
- Company: Mirvish Productions
- Venue: Princess of Wales Theatre
- City: Toronto
- Year: To October 23, 2022
I don’t know if Singin’ in the Rain is the greatest American movie musical, as some polls maintain, but it’s always been a big favourite of mine. As a kid, I used to try running up walls like Donald O’Connor in his slapstick number Make ‘Em Laugh. More recently, I’ve been known to wake my teenage daughter by singing the chipper strains of Good Morning. (She is not amused.) If I’m out walking on a rainy day, I’m immediately tempted to twirl my umbrella and break into a ludicrous attempt at a Gene Kelly tap dance.
When I told my wife I was reviewing the stage version of Singin’ in the Rain at the Princess of Wales Theatre, her response was: “But of course you are.”
The original 1952 MGM film has been transferred to the stage numerous times, by everyone from British song-and-dance man Tommy Steele to American choreographer Twyla Tharp. The version we’re seeing in Toronto is a touring revival of the hit production that originated at England’s Chichester Festival Theatre, played London’s West End in 2012 and was remounted at that city’s Sadler’s Wells last year.
The show is directed by former Chichester artistic director Jonathan Church, who dances a fine line between pleasing fans of the movie and adding his own stamp to the material. His production sticks close to the original Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay – although with many little tweaks – and features all those infectious Nacio Herb Brown-Arthur Freed songs. It also reproduces Kelly and Stanley Donen’s inventive dance sequences – complete with a stage-drenching downpour for the title tune – but Church and choreographer Andrew Wright only use them as a template for their own playful inventions.
The result is a clever, engaging, if at times pallid, piece of retro-entertainment. It’s a bit like the over-the-top emoting of the show’s silent-screen couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont: The sheer exuberance of the movie is there, but it often feels synthetic.
If you know the film, you know the story: We’re in 1927 Hollywood, at the advent of the sound era, and Don, the vaudevillian-turned-swashbuckling matinee idol, is in a jam. He’s ready not only to embrace talking pictures, but to remake his latest French Revolution romance into a full-blown musical. But there’s a catch. While his co-star, Lina, can rock a Marie Antoinette wig with the best of them, she has a nails-on-blackboard voice. Then Don, with help from his new sweetheart, Kathy Selden, and his best buddy, musician Cosmo Brown, come up with a brilliant solution: Kathy, a recently elevated chorus girl, will dub Lina’s voice. Now, they just have to be wary of Lina, who possesses a diva-sized ego and is jealous of Kathy.
As Don, the suave Sam Lips – last seen on this stage in 2017′s Strictly Ballroom – doesn’t resemble the barrel-chested Kelly so much as Fred Astaire crossed with Don Draper. He’s a likeable lead and an accomplished crooner and hoofer. Alastair Crosswell, meanwhile, does a faithful replication of O’Connor’s endearingly goofy Cosmo, even if his Make ‘Em Laugh is only half as frenetic and, alas, contains no wall climbing.
It’s a splendid Charlotte Gooch as Kathy who gives the most adventurous performance. Departing from Debbie Reynolds’s wholesome prototype, she transforms Kathy into a worldly lady with a wry manner and a taste for the hard stuff. One of director Church’s more inspired touches is to have her, Lips and Crosswell perform the Good Morning scene with boozy abandon after the trio spend all night drinking and plotting. (In the movie, they sip milk.)
Less successful is the addition of a comic number for Faye Tozer’s Lina. It’s a tepid spoof of introspection, although Tozer herself has fun with the role. She plays the dumb-blonde stereotype with relish and sounds less like the grating Jean Hagen in the film and more like Judy Holliday huffing helium. I also enjoyed veteran actor Michael Brandon, who is gruff but amenable as that rarest of things: a Hollywood studio boss with scruples.
Designer Simon Higlett’s set conjures up that studio as a vast, black-and-white sound stage, which serves as a canvas for his colourful 1920s-era costumes, vibrantly lit by Tim Mitchell. They’re shown to particular advantage in the second-act Broadway Melody ballet, trimmed and reworked from the original but still containing the famous sequence with Cyd Charisse’s vamp. The role is danced here with sultry aplomb by Harriet Samuel-Gray.
The show’s crack company also serves up a feast of tap-dancing and general high spirits. For the film sections, an upstage screen descends to show amusing clips from Lockwood and Lamont’s florid romances.
What’s missing from much of this show, however, is the original movie’s heart. Singin’ in the Rain may be a silly satire of old-time Hollywood, but it’s also a love story with plenty of – as the song says – glorious feeling. That doesn’t fully come across onstage until the final reconciliation scene between Lips’s apologetic Don, who has briefly deceived his girlfriend, and Gooch’s touchingly emotional Kathy. It’s followed, inevitably, by an encore of that spectacular rainstorm. (The front-row audience is supplied with plastic ponchos.)
The finale was just enough to leave me in an upbeat mood. It was a clear night when I left the theatre, but had it been raining and had I an umbrella …
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)