When a visiting friend asked to see a West End musical during her visit, I jumped at the chance to indulge my addiction and booked us tickets to see Singin’ in the Rain, currently playing at the Palace Theatre. The production is slick, and wonderfully serviced by its musical score, which remains as joyful as ever.
For anyone not already familiar with the plot from the classic MGM film (is there anyone?), Singin’ in the Rain recounts the fortunes of silent film stars when the talkies take over. Leading man Don Lockwood has the vocal chops to survive the transition, but leading lady Lina Lamont, with her screechy Brooklyn accent, will be out of a job. Enter the fresh-faced starlet Kathy Selden, who is called upon to dub Lina’s voice and save the picture, but not before falling in love with Don.
Theatrical remakes of hit films are doomed to one of two fates: they are either condemned for lack of originality, or they are lambasted for needless betrayal of the sacred original. This review falls into the former category, I’m afraid. At this point, I must confess that I have seen the film many, many times. If this were not the case, I suspect I would have enjoyed the unflaggingly loyal production at the Palace a great deal more. Throughout the show, I was distracted by a parallel performance of the film that ran in my imagination and prevented me from relaxing and losing myself in the performance on the stage.
Now, I realize this might sound fussy, but one of the theatre’s gifts is its ability to reimagine material afresh. Unlike films, which remain frozen, theatre can reinvent the same show for each new audience, finding new interpretations and layers of meaning. This production of Singin’ in the Rain, though polished to perfection, played it safe.
And ultimately, Adam Cooper, Daniel Crossley and Scarlett Strallen, as Don, Cosmo and Kathy respectively, fail to come out from behind the massive shadows cast by Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. I concede that Strallen had a sunny pertness reminiscent of, well, Debbie Reynolds; though her American accent hit a few false notes, which grated my ear (sorry). Only Katherine Kingsley, as the squawking Lina, made me forget all about her cinematic predecessor. Her show-stealing performance brought new complexity to the role by suggesting that insecurity lay behind Lina’s wicked behaviour.
Yes, the set design is beautiful. Yes, there are gallons of water for the title number. And yes, the show is a delightful spectacle of singing and tap dancing. But then so is the movie.