Book: Betty Comden &Adolph Green
Music: Nacio Herb Brown
Lyrics: Arthur Freed
Director: Elizabeth Newman
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Summer may technically have arrived but it looks to be a wet month at the Octagon as they bring classic movie musical Singin’ in the Rain to the stage in a production which should make a deserved splash in Bolton.
Although a collaboration with the Salisbury Playhouse and New Vic, Newcastle-under-Lyme it is the Octagon’s own Elizabeth Newman that directs this feel-good musical revival and she does so with style and an obvious understanding of how best to transform the relatively small space. Sian Williams draws upon Gene Kelly and Stanley Donan’s original dance routines and utilises their iconic motifs to inspire new, exuberant choreography that fills the stage. The hugely talented cast double as the musicians and Ciaran Bagnall’s art-deco inspired monochrome set situates the action almost entirely on a raised central platform with only limited use of props and scenery. Rest assured however, there is rain and plenty of it.
This stripped back approach ensures the focus is entirely on three main ingredients; the plot, score and performances. The plot will be familiar to most; in 1927 Hollywood silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the toast of the town, nonetheless their fame looks set to fade unless they can make the transition to the latest craze, talking pictures. Alas, Lamont’s thick, unintelligible accent and ear-splitting singing voice looks set to spell disaster; that is, until Lockwood falls for the sweet-voiced Kathy Selden, who may just sing their way to success. Comden and Green’s book is a little slow to start and holds few surprisesbut becomes increasingly witty and warm-hearted as the show progresses.
The score features a host of classics; from the toe-tapping rhythms of Moses Supposes and Good Morning to the beautiful soaring melodies of You Are My Lucky Star and You Were Meant for Me, not to mention of course the joyful title number.
In the multi-talented cast, Eleanor Brown is charming as the spirited Kathy Selden and Christian Edwards is an endearing and energetic Cosmo Brown, whose Make ‘Em Laugh uniquely elevates the usual slapstick antics by playing trombone… with his feet. Lockwood and Lamont are not only the stars of the fictional studio however, but the stars of the show too. Matthew Croke is a debonair leading man and performs the iconic title number with a dazzling, effortless style. Sarah Vezmar is terrific as Lamont, amid dashing between the drums and flute, she also brings the bulk of the laughs, pitching the squeaky voice and tuneless warbling perfectly in standout solo What’s Wrong With Me? With screens hanging above the stage we are also treated to footage of the movie as it is made and Vezmar’s melodramatic, deliberately exaggerated performances are a delight to watch.
Some may find the casts constant movement between stage and orchestra distracting however their versatility, enthusiasm and commitment is admirable.
Those in the front two rows are supplied with ponchos for protection but when the rain starts falling for the finale there is such a sense of optimism and happiness that one cannot help but want to run down the aisles and join in. A heartwarming hit for the Octagon, to paraphrase Don Lockwood, Singin’ in the Rain will certainly put a smile on your face.
Runs until 25 June, 2016