When Jonathan Church's production of Singin' in the Rain opened in Chichester last summer it brought the reviewers out in a fevered rash of five star raves.
I missed it at the time, alas, though I yield to no one in my admiration for the Festival Theatre's amazing recent track record with musicals including Stephen Mear's enchantingly witty and brilliantly choreographed chamber-staging in Minerva Studio last spring of She Loves Me, the cult favourite by the authors of Fiddler on the Roof which, in any just world, would also have transferred to London.
In the circumstances, the four stars on the top of this notice might look a tad curmudgeonly. So let me be clear from the outset that I think the production contains sequences as rapturously enjoyable (the choreography by Andrew Wright is as electric as any I have seen in a stage musical – not least the title song and its finale reprise (of which more later). What mars the show, for me, is that there are places where the desire to do nothing if not knock the audience dead again and again brings in a faintly metallic and driven feel to the proceedings. Unless watched carefully, virtuoso song-and-dance can develop a harshness that obscures the heartfelt. In some of the numbers – especially an elating-beyond-belief rendition of “Moses Sipposes” and “Good Morning, Good Morning”, performed by Adam Cooper, Scarlett Strallen, and Daniel Crossley as the central trio – the astonishing feats of varied tone and dynamics, of seamlessly segueing between different modes and moods of dance within the one song feel like the euphoric outpouring of uncontainable joy from within the characters. But there are other numbers where it feels more like a “medley” and producers’ overkill. So when “Good Morning, Good Morning” is reprised at the start of the second half by a bevy of Charlestoning secretaries at the Hollywood production company offices, in a tangle of archly angled telephone wires, it’s comparatively flat because it comes across as emotionally inorganic and tending towards the Busby Berkeley end of the scale.
The show is based, you’ll have guessed, on the much-loved MGM musical. I won’t, though, be able to watch Gene Kelly stomping in puddles ever again without feeling too dry and bit excluded. Making a bigger and live splash, Adam Cooper boots great sprays of rain water over the over the stalls in a blissful baptism of theatrical H2O. Enchantingly he beomes lk a mischievous little boy in the giddiness of his love,. This is Billy Elliot grown up and regressing. The band pounds out precision playing. Katherine Kingsley though funny, is too much of a drag act for my taste as Brooklyn-accented dinosaur Lina Lamont. There is such crush at the intervals at the Palace that I think that the management should put Mr Cooper in a trough of white wine in the downstairs. Boot it in this direction, Adam!
To 29 September (0844 412 4656)