Posts Tagged ‘Adam Cooper’

Review – Singing in the Rain – Palace Theatre

February 9, 2012

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.)

Review – “Wizard of Oz” – Royal Festival Hall, London

August 6, 2008

“Surrender Dorothy,” indeed. For this show, I think “Beware Dorothy” might be a more appropriate tag.

As someone who grew up watching The Wizard of Oz over and over again (once a year, on TV), the possibility of NOT seeing this show was small. Basically, every time I saw the ruby slippers on a poster at the Southbank, I knew I had to go. Appropriately, I was promised tickets as a birthday present – what better to bring a sparkle to my eye? – then studiously avoided reading all reviews of the show until I went last night.

This may or may not have been a good thing.

From the beginning, I had problems with elements of this show. I liked the Kansas version of the set, with a video screen overhead showing images of fields and stormy skies and the floor fenced off by corrugated metal that nicely implied a not very rich farmstead. But from the minute she came on stage, Dorothy (Sian Brooke) rubbed me the wrong way. First, she seemed whiny rather than plucky (home from school on a farm? I promise you you’d be set to doing chores right away, not bothering the farmhands with your gossip), and her accent was atrocious. How can English actors get 40 kinds of English accents right and fail so miserably at almost every American accent? “Southern” and “New Yawk” do not substitute for Midwestern, and Dorothy sounded like she was about to run down the road to Tara and make a fancy dress out of the drapes. I was mortified. Not only do people from Kansas not talk like that (I should know), but neither did Judy Garland (whose performance was so clearly influencing this one) in this or any other movie.

That said, I was patient at the beginning despite my frustrations. Toto was adorable (though ever so focused on the contents of Dorothy’s pockets – ah, dogs!), the various characters were still establishing themselves (though mostly coming off a little cardboardy), Kansas isn’t exactly supposed to be “magical,” so there was still plenty of time for things to improve.

Sadly, the magic never happened at all. Dorothy’s tornado scene should have blown the metal away in preparation for entering a new world. Instead, she lay on her bed as it circled around the stage floor, while the video screen showed childish drawings of a spring around a funnel, with occasional projections over the spring of a boat, a cow, a bicycle, and a witch (if these were the “visual installation,” Huntley Muir has a lot to answer for). These drawings became a source of amusement for me, and I made sketches of them to show just how bad they were (see reproductions, fairly lifelike, made in MS Paint, the first the projection used while on the Yellow Brick Road, the other the one that appeared when they were in the forest finding the Tin Man) since I wasn’t particularly captured by the “action” on stage.YellowBrickRoadsign

So … Oz, land of wonders. Or not. The world was still full of corrugated metal, with a tiny opening in the back of the stage (6 by 15 feet?) showing blue skies and representing arrival in Munchkinland, now full of small children who managed to sing a bit but struggled with their dialogue. At this point, the failures in the lighting design (by Mike Gunning) began to really irritate me. A group of moving people in what is supposed to be an outdoor space should not be walking in and out of shadows on stage. Is this a problem with the Royal Festival Hall, say a lack of places to plug in lights? At the very least, much heavier use should have been made of follow spots; I would have kept one constantly trained on the red slippers during the entire time they were on the Wicked Witch of the East’s feet. Instead, they sat in the shadows, somewhat forlorn, a rather sad fate for such well publicized footwear.

TinManProjectionThroughout the entire time in Oz, the metal background never went away. The scene in the cornfield (full of crows who looked like Goth versions of Robert Michener in Night of the Hunter) took place surrounded by metal, the poppy field (in which escapees from St. Trinians held giant red flowers over their heads) was similarly ghetto gated, even the Emerald City had a shantytown look to it. By the time we made it to the Wild West hangout of the Wicked Witch of the West (featuring cowboy hatted and duster wearing, all-black, “Yo hee oh” chanting Winkies – what had gone wrong with this world?), I’d long given up on ever escaping from this dim little set. Was there no fly system to carry things away? Was there no backstage? Did the revolve only provide a tatty little yellow marley circle for the performers to half-heartedly stroll on?

What I found myself longing for (other than for the people who sat in the audience talking like they were at home watching TV to DIE) was the raw energy and enthusiasm of Pantos. (This show isn’t done as one per my English born companion, but I had thought from reading the West End Whingers’ article on why they weren’t going to see the “Wizard of Oz” that it was). The Cowardly Lion (Gary Wilmot) was getting there; he hammed it up, gave his lines 110%, and acted like he needed to act loud enough for the people at the back of this barn (most of us) to feel his performance. While this wouldn’t have been appropriate for a really serious performance, it seemed like it fit with this show fairly well. And the Tin Man (Adam Cooper) was not a bad dancer and actually tossed in some gratuitous (and much appreciated) tap moments. In fact, for me, the closest this got to magic was when the gang of four were bitten by a “jitterbug” and all wound up dancing around on stage. This show could have used a lot more of this kind of action – as well as a lot more enthusiasm in general.

It seemed ultimately it was all brought down by Sian Brooke, who just seemed to be going through the paces (the joke in our row being she was off to Oz in search of acting lessons and returning to Kansas hoping to find her accent). Is she upset at being trapped in this turkey and just biding her time until her contract is over? I haven’t seen such a listless performance since the closing week 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, in whch the half-full houses seemed to be pulling the smiles off of the chorus members’ faces en masse. Maybe she just found the work of taking care of a dog and acting at the same time too much to handle, but in a town with the depth of theater talent that London has, there is simply no excuse for her lackluster performance. She let down every other person on stage, except for Toto, who, obviously, isn’t a person and appeared to be having a great time, which meant at least one living creature in this horrid barn was. Certainly the 10 year old napping on my shoulder wasn’t, nor her 8 year old sister.

In short: not as bad as Fram (see the Framometer at the WestEnd Whinger’s site – and note we actually stayed through the interval though I would left if this hadn’t been my birthday present – my friend said the increasingly hysterical levels of cheese were encouraging him to stay to see just how bad it could get) but still a turkey and TOO DAMNED LONG. Don’t take your kids, don’t go yourself, play your get out of jail free card before you buy and take a pass on this mess.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, August 5th, 2008. For an even more sizzling review, read Russell’s Theatre Reviews, where the origin of the horrible overhead projections is explained in great detail. The good news is that West Side Story, which I’ll be seeing next week, is supposed to be great, as is Pygmalion, which I’m seeing tonight, and even Into the Hoods, which ends at the end of this month, should be fun.)