Original Screenplay: Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Songs: Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Director: Pollyann Tanner
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
Arthur Freed couldn’t have known what he was unleashing when he had the idea of a film musical using the back catalogue of songs he wrote with Nacio Herb Brown. The film Singin’ in the Rain was released in 1952 and subsequently became one of the world’s favourite musical films, thanks in no small part to those songs, the song and dance skills of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds and, of course, the iconic scene in which Kelly sings in the rain.
Stage adaptations followed in the 1980s with subsequent revivals, and now youngsters of the West Midlands have their chance to shine in this iconic story.
The Alexandra has been running its Stage Experience scheme, in which local youngsters have a chance to experience professional theatre, for some years. And it is indeed a taste of the professional theatre – after two weeks of intensive rehearsal, the production is played on The Alexandra’s stage to paying audiences.
The story is well known – the silent era of filmmaking is coming to an end and some stars are struggling to make the transition. Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are big stars making one romantic melodrama after another when it becomes clear they need to move with the times. There’s one problem, though – while Don came up through vaudeville and is well used to using his voice, Lina has a thick accent and squeaky voice. The new medium requires more subtlety and Lina doesn’t seem able to tone her performance down – their first attempt at a talkie is the risible The Duelling Cavalier. Meanwhile, Don has become smitten with Kathy Selden, the one girl who seems unimpressed by his stardom and who is a terrific singer and performer to boot. Can Kathy help save The Duelling Cavalier?
This version follows the film plot closely and includes some big production numbers. Singin’ in the Rain itself is lovingly reproduced with real rain, Good Morning retains its zest and joyous feel, while Broadway Melody evokes the ambitious production numbers the Hollywood studios became known for. Most scene transitions are smooth but the whole does have a cinematic feel with some really quite short sequences, for example when Lina is receiving elocution lessons and struggling with her vowel sounds: for these, the changes could maybe have been planned better.
Of the four main characters, it is the girls who shine brightest. Isabella Kibble brings us Kathy Selden with an assured stage presence and a great voice. A fine dancer too, she has it all. Providing much of the comedic light relief with perfect comic timing is Jessica Walton as Lina Lamont. While some of the accents slip, becoming more West Midlands than West Coast, Walton’s remains firmly rooted in Brooklyn. Her rendition of What’s Wrong With Me? is a joy to watch in all its ear-jangling glory.
Ben Tanner certainly looks the part as Don Lockwood. He too is comfortable on stage, moving effortlessly across it and displaying some fine tap-dancing skills. His solo rendition of Singin’ in the Rain certainly sends us into the interval with a warm feeling. Sam Rogers’ Cosmo, Lockwood’s childhood friend and sidekick, complements Tanner’s Lockwood well.
Press night was affected by some technical issues with sound. Occasionally, microphones were not activated quickly enough leading to some dialogue becoming difficult to hear. In addition, the use of cast members as passers-by to add atmosphere to scenes a deux is a sound idea, but the clatter of their footsteps can become intrusive.
The Alexandra is to be commended for providing this opportunity for local youngsters with high expectations. It’s clear that there’s plenty of talent here waiting to be discovered.
Runs Until 24 August 2019 | Image: Sam Bagnall