Singin' in the Rain, Sadler's Wells

A movie about movies loses its magic on stage
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The Independent Culture

Of all the post-war MGM musicals, Singin' in the Rain is the greatest; and it's the greatest for non-musical reasons. It's a satire on 1920s Hollywood, made by people who obviously spent their younger days gazing in wonder at the silver screen - its pastiche silent films are beautiful, if silly. Putting it on stage loses the lovely self-mockery of a movie about movies.

Of all the post-war MGM musicals, Singin' in the Rain is the greatest; and it's the greatest for non-musical reasons. It's a satire on 1920s Hollywood, made by people who obviously spent their younger days gazing in wonder at the silver screen - its pastiche silent films are beautiful, if silly. Putting it on stage loses the lovely self-mockery of a movie about movies.

This new stage version, a co-production by Sadler's Wells and the Leicester Haymarket, loses more than that. It keeps the film's songs and its witty script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. But it's a stiff and plodding transfer.

The star is Adam Cooper, the ex-Royal Ballet dancer who played the Swan in Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake. He plays the Gene Kelly role of Don Lockwood and choreographed the dances.

They don't reproduce the movie's numbers, although there are some overlaps: some tap, some ballet steps, some all-purpose chorus dancing. Cooper doesn't know how to build a number. His chorus work hard, and they show touches of style, but they're never asked to let rip.

Cooper's own dancing provides the evening's happiest moments. Splashing through the title number, he looks gleefully happy - not so much a musical star, more a dancer imitating one of his heroes.

Ronni Ancona, the star of BBC's The Big Impression , is famous for imitations but she looks adrift in an acting role. As monstrous film star Lina Lamont, Jean Hagen gave the movie's funniest performance. Talking pictures are on the way in: Don's voice is fine, but Lina sounds like a squeaking hinge. Ancona screeches with a will, but she doesn't give us Lina's monstrous self-confidence.

Josefina Gabrielle plays Kathy Selden, the actress hired to dub Lina's voice. It's an ingenue role, but Gabrielle's is hardly an ingenue voice. She's a belter, with a grainy vibrato. Simon Coulthard, as Don's best friend Cosmo, is overactive but not spontaneous.

It's not just Coulthard. Under Paul Kerryson's direction, the actors keep overpointing their lines, highlighting every joke. They don't relax.

Then there are the creaks of the staging itself. Robert Innes-Hopkins provides some clear settings, including a good Hollywood Egyptian party scene but the quick transitions take far too long. The live band, directed by Julian Kelly, has some vigour but it's loud rather than jazzy.

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