Review – Singing in the Rain – Palace Theatre

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So what do you do if you have the stage rights to one of the most popular musicals of all time? Turn it into a mostly faithful reproduction of the original, with all of the sparkle sucked out, seems to be the answer these days. While I appreciate the sentiment to move to strong, story-driven work rather than jukebox musicals, I’m really questioning the motivations that brought horrors like The Wizard of Oz to the stage. But before I go into too much analysis of this question (can the answer be anything but “money” when it comes down to it), let’s have a look at last night’s trip to the Palace to see Singing in the Rain – the fourth night of what will likely be a long run (and fully reviewable in my book as it already had a solid session in Chichester).

So: plot. It’s the end of the age of silent movies, and stars Lena Lamont (Katherine Kingsley) and Don Lockwood (Adam Cooper) are at the top of their universes. While both have outsized egos to match, they’re about to be brought down a notch: for Lena, by the arrival of talkies; for Don, by the arrival of a sassy yet sweet blonde (Kathy Selden, played by Scarlett Strallen) who makes him think he isn’t really the center of the universe. Love (inevitably) ensues between Don and Kathy, but when Lena realizes Kathy is taking away Adam – and horning in on her own fame – she decides to ensure her own distinctive stamp on their first talkie, The Dancing Cavalier. Can the picture (and the studio) be saved? What about love? Don’s best friend Cosmo (Daniel Crossley) has ideas to make sure both happen … and with this being a Hollywood original, you can be sure there’s a happy ending.

I knew little about this other than it had some positive buzz and, well, of couse, I remembered the plot and songs from the movie (which I love without being obsessive about it). But, as ever, I was prepared to experience it on its own terms. Adaptations frequently must give up a lot in order to succeed in a new medium, but I figured the distance between me and my last viewing of the original would mean any removed (or added) songs/choreography/characters/plot lines would fuzz into my vague memory of the story seamlessly. I was sure Lina Lamont didn’t have her own number, but as I was loving Katherine Kingsley’s characterization, I was more than willing to have her take a star turn.

What I didn’t expect was that the lead, Adam Cooper, would have so little charisma or zing of his own. Was it because he was trying to play Gene Kelley (playing Gene Kelly), rather than playing Don Lockwood? Don is a caricature of a character, mostly just a name to hang Gene Kelly’s face on, but Cooper doesn’t seem to get that what this character needs to work is not an actor playing an iconic actor (in a role as an actor): he needs to give it his own special something. And while he worked his way through the dance scenes with well-rehearsed skill, he didn’t succeed in creating that feeling of A Star. Did he need to be “Adam Cooper, Totally Amazing Dancer, I Own This Show,” or did he need to be “Don Lockwood, Song and Dance Man Who Rose To The Top (but still has a heart of gold)?” I was willing to be sucked in and amazed, but instead I was surprised at how very wooden Cooper was. Is it because the show had just started at the Palace and he hadn’t settled in? Had he spent his time working on his dance moves rather than creating chemistry with his costars? Whatever it was, I found myself focusing on Cosmo and Lena, who were really shining in their roles as laugh generators, but I knew it was just wrong that Cooper was not owning the stage.

Meanwhile, the various song and dance routines were entertaining but similarly lacking in pizazz. I wanted more wow, more new, more now, to be overwhelmed with the gorgeousness of it all and the thrill of the dance. It’s actually not that hard to do this to me (witness my tears at Crazy for You). But only in the final scene, when the cast came out to reprise “Singing in the Rain” with multi-colored umbrellas, was I finally swept away in it all. And when Scarlett Strallen stood there at the very end, smiling her heart out, wanting us to love her as she stood between Cooper and Crossley, I thought, damn, girl, you’re a real professional and you just got short-changed … not just by Cooper but by a production team that thought what they needed to do is make the two of you play Kelly and Reynolds rather than letting your own star quality shine through. They didn’t trust the material enough as a stage show; they just wanted a faithful, live reproduction of a musical that would draw in the bus fulls of silver haired theater patrons, night after night.

And I suppose, really, my dreams of art aside, this is just, really, a commercial venture, a way to put butts in seats, and the fact that sometimes something truly beautiful is produced amidst all of this worship of the almighty dollar (or pound in this case) is merely a side product and not the main goal. And enough of the theater was full (and happy enough) that they’ve probably made it all safe enough to get those tickets sold. But I wanted to see at the end of this night was the feeling that I’d seen two amazing performers burning up the stage, connecting with each other, sparks flying everywhere. And maybe it was all the water coming down from the rafters (I have to say I was a bit worried about someone possibly getting electrocuted through their microphone – no one can apparently sing well enough to fill the house without one these days), but Singing in the Rain was a damp squib for me.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, February 7th, 2012. It’ll be booking into the far, far future, I’m sure. Meanwhile, don’t forget to catch Crazy for You before it closes – it’s a really top musical that has way more bang for the buck if you’re a fan of traditional song and dance shows. Note that the upper seats in this theater have a very restricted view, are small and uncomfortable and unsuited for those with vertigo or a desire to see all of the stage from their seats.)

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5 Responses to “Review – Singing in the Rain – Palace Theatre”

  1. Simon Parris Says:

    Hmmm, I’ve booked to see this in a couple of weeks- bit nervous now.
    Might have to rely on nostalgia value – I performed in SITR in Australia many moons ago (a range of roles including the male voice teacher in the Moses Supposes number). I hope Moses Supposes come off alright?
    Will have to see how Adam is going in two weeks.
    Thanks for the early review!

  2. Matthew Lambe Says:

    Simon- don’t be concerned by this review. I am sure you will love this show, as do most of the critics- 5 stars in the Daily Telegraph, for example, where Charles Spencer calls it “an evening of sheer delight.” Olga is, from what I’ve read, in a minority of one in calling this show a damp squib. Go in with an open mind and I’m sure you’ll love it- I certainly did when I saw it at Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, along with the rest of the audience who stood and cheered it to the rafters.

    And what’s wrong with a show that “puts butts on seats”? Theatre has to survive in these difficult economic times. Butts on seats is how they will do it. There’s still plenty of more challenging threatre areound for those who wish to seek it out. But there’s nothing wrong with a feel-good evening of great entertainment- and that is what this is, no more, no less.

  3. cedarhallclinics Says:

    We have just returned from this show and couldn’t agree more about Adam Cooper and his complete lack of charisma and personality. To be honest, all in our party are regular theatre goers and, none of us liked the show at all. There was very little dancing talent on display and there was a distinct lack of sparkle and oomph. So very disappointing.

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