Singin’ in the Rain continues at the Opera House, Manchester until 30 November, then tours until 4 October, 2014.
It is strange to think that, while the original 1952 MGM musical is such an indelibly imprinted and long-standing classic, the stage version of Singin’ in the Rain has only been with us for the last three decades. And who would have thought that an original grab-bag of existing musical standards, set in the 1920s but made in the 1950s, and adapted for the stage in the early 1980s – with director/star Tommy Steele – and then revived by various production teams in the years since, could hold up so well.
But then, whether on celluloid or in theatres, Singin’ in the Rain has always been a potent and magical proposition. It is certainly one of the best film musicals of all time and those subsequent stage revivals have only honed and improved an already winning formula. And arguably this tour, an extension of the Chichester Theatre’s smash hit Adam Cooper-starring 2012 revival, sees the stage version in possibly its finest fettle yet.
Part of this honing has seen songs moved around and the dancing sequences shortened – almost half the original film’s running time was taken up by hoofing. This gives the book more prominence, and in this current incarnation it is the plot, adapted from their own screenplay by original writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green, that really steals the show. Directed with vim by Jonathan Church, it is the story that gives the show as much rhythm, pace and panache as Andrew Wright’s impressively staged dance numbers, based on Gene Kelly’s iconic original steps.
Obviously, James Leece has big dancing shoes to fill as Don Lockwood, the matinee idol whose box office dominance is threatened by the advent of talking pictures. But Leece, an alumni of Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures company, dances up a storm, has charm to spare and, with his tall, dark looks, gives his leading man an air of Mad Men’s Don Draper. Also picture perfect is Amy Ellen Richardson as rising star Kathy Selden, and the pair combine to sparkling effect on ‘You Were Meant For Me’, one of the more subtle tunes among Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s jukebox of musical greatest hits. And when they are joined by Stephane Anelli, physically spot on as the clowning sidekick Cosmo, the central trio gel every bit as effectively as their iconic movie counterparts, with the showstoppingly brilliant ‘Good Morning’ in particular a masterpiece of choreographed synchronicity.
Elsewhere in the cast, former Steps singer Faye Tozer stands out to amusing effect as the shrill, scheming Lina Lamont. In fact the whole ensemble benefits from a production that ramps up the comedy to the maximum, with Colbys and Grease 2 star Maxwell Caulfield clearly relishing his role as cigar – and scenery – chewing movie exec RF, and Ian William Galloway’s cleverly mounted onscreen silent film video segments still bring the house down.
Speaking of which, touring versions of West End shows can often feel like skimped on and slimmed down copies of their parent productions. But the production values here are sky high, with the deceptively simple and seamless settings and transitions of designer Simon Higlett making the production positively leap – and sometimes, in the case of the classic rain-soaked title number, spill – off the stage. Ensuring that this evergreen show remains, for every minute of its perfectly paced running time, a total splash hit.