Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s 1952 release, Singin’ in the Rain, is the type of film that you can watch a hundred times and still find it exciting, engaging, and engrossing. On the first viewing you are captivated by the story. Every subsequent viewing you find yourself mesmerized by the brilliance of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. There is comfort in the familiarity. It’s a show that is simultaneously nostalgic and enthralling, and it is this combination that makes Singin’ in the Rain perfect for an on stage musical.
It’s natural to spend the first 10 minutes comparing Rohan Browne (Don Lockwood) with Gene Kelly, Jack Chambers (Cosmo Brown) with Donald O’Connor and Gretel Scarlett (Kathy Selden) with Debbie Reynolds, but after the opening number and an appropriately boisterous rendition of ‘Fit as a Fiddle’, all comparisons are forgotten. This ensemble is immensely talented, and they pay homage to the classic film with their individual portrayals.
Rohan Browne’s interpretation of the suave, love struck film star is slightly different from Gene Kelly’s, but his footwork and vocals are on par. Gretel Scarlett’s Kathy is more feisty than innocent, but seems to work well opposite Browne. Her rendition of ‘You Are My Lucky Star’ is a heart melting moment.
Erika Heynatz’s portrayal of Lina Lamont would have given Jean Hagan a run for her money – she was perfect. ‘What’s Wrong with Me?’ was wonderfully shrill and, no doubt, as difficult to perform as it was to listen to. It is not easy to find the appropriate balance between vocal severity and comedy – but Erika found it! Her quips and “wha-da-ya think I am, dumb or summin?” were a comic highlight.
Another highlight was, of course, ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’. Jack Chambers’ performance was beyond energetic. How he managed to enunciate each syllable so perfectly while coupling with sometimes ridiculous movement and action, is really quite astounding. While there was no running up the walls, this production of Singin’ in the Rain found another way to remember Donald O’Connor’s performance.
Adapting a film to the stage means that there will be necessary differences. But in this production, all of the most important film ‘magic moments’ are cleverly referenced (thankfully placating audiences). While there was no iconic sofa-tip at the end of ‘Good Mornin’, Andrew Wright’s choreography, performed delightfully by the trio, evokes memories of the film while still feeling new, and fresh. Even the ‘Broadway Ballet’, which in the film frustrates me, was a welcome visual and stylistic change on stage.
To the delight of the audience (particularly the poncho clad front three rows) ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was exceptional. The anticipation was palpable throughout the first act. Even the rustling of the plastic ponchos, which ordinarily I’m sure would be annoying, gave the impression of light rain. And then comes the deluge. Add in the lamp, the umbrella, and suit-wearing Rohan Browne with an unrivalled dance performance, and you have a happy auditorium.
Aside from managing two deluges of rain in one performance, the other technical aspects of Singin’ in the Rain ran smoothly as well. The various projected films are seamlessly incorporated into the action. Jonathon Church’s direction of the tricky final scene, where we bounce between backstage with the boys to on stage with Lina, made a technical conundrum seem like a non-issue, and was enhanced by Tim Mitchell’s lighting design.
This production of Singin’ in the Rain brings a wonderful film to life. While the musical has a life and an energy of its own, it will not disappoint the purists, and it will delight everyone else! You’ll be humming ‘Good Mornin’ for weeks and looking for the next sunshower to dance in.