Singin' in the Rain, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Not much of a splash
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The Independent Culture

Can a movie ever form the basis for a good stage musical? (I asked another reviewer – much younger, local – who thought a moment and answered, " My Fair Lady", but let that pass.) I think not, since a film is conceived in terms that cannot be translated to the stage, and the adaptation is bound to suffer from comparison – especially if the film is Singin' in the Rain. For not only is the 1952 musical deservedly popular, its subject is the movies themselves. The story of the transition from silent pictures to talkies can't be told without showing them. Children taken to the theatre for the first time, and staring at three large screens, might well question the point of leaving their videos and computers.

Can a movie ever form the basis for a good stage musical? (I asked another reviewer – much younger, local – who thought a moment and answered, " My Fair Lady", but let that pass.) I think not, since a film is conceived in terms that cannot be translated to the stage, and the adaptation is bound to suffer from comparison – especially if the film is Singin' in the Rain. For not only is the 1952 musical deservedly popular, its subject is the movies themselves. The story of the transition from silent pictures to talkies can't be told without showing them. Children taken to the theatre for the first time, and staring at three large screens, might well question the point of leaving their videos and computers.

As if these hurdles to a successful show weren't enough, Jude Kelly has raised the bar by keeping the screens in place even when they aren't needed, and filling them with images that, along with being hideous and inane (most look as though they were doodled with a few crayons during a coffee break), upstage the performers. While the comic is singing, dancing, and tumbling through "Make 'em Laugh", our attention is distracted by a much larger image behind him, and its more extravagant antics. When the absurdly vulgar movie queen sings, "What's Wrong with Me?", and answers "Nothin'!", she is flanked by the word in bright red, as if her delivery were ineffectual. Treating one's actors this way is not only discourteous but disloyal.

Where theatre can triumph over the more immediately powerful medium of film is in the thrilling intimacy it can give us with the human presence and voice. But here, the musicians are banished from sight, and the crassly orchestrated songs are delivered by machine. The rather gross irony of a show ridiculing tinny-voiced actors and their use of microphones being performed by actors wired for sound seems to have escaped Kelly, who also, judging by the speaking voices and the terrible comic timing, doesn't seem to have much of an ear. The three drab leads assume flat "American" accents with, here and there, some grating 1930s gangster or shopgirl tones. The hero sings to the heroine that she is his lucky star, he "sore" her from afar, a pronunciation I've heard in none of the 50 states.

As the grotesque Lina Lamont, Jacqui Rae gave me one of my two laughs of the evening, collapsing on to a sofa and announcing, "I'm crushed!'', in a voice that evoked the death agonies of a self-dramatising orange. The other came from a couple in the front row, who, when the lead began his water-splashing dance, put up an umbrella. This cast didn't win my admiration, but, what with their being undermined by their own director and outshone by the punters, they certainly have my sympathy.

To 23 February (0113 2137700)

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