Review | Stage version of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ makes a delightful splash at the Princess of Wales Theatre
Singin’ in the Rain
Based on the classic Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Directed by Jonathan Church. Choreographed by Andrew Wright. Until Oct. 23; Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King St. W., mirvish.com/shows/singin-in-the-rain
In case you were wondering: yes, it does actually rain in “Singin’ in the Rain,” the big, splashy must-see musical currently drawing crowds to Toronto’s Princess of Wales Theatre. No cheesy video effects, no artificial droplets; just gallons and gallons — sounds so much more drenching than litres — of good, old-fashioned H2O.
There’s so much of it, not just during the title song — cue iconic umbrella and lamppost — but also in the grand finale that patrons in the front rows are likely to get wet. Mirvish Productions, bless them, thoughtfully offers rain ponchos, just in case. And the orchestra? Let’s just say they’ve taken precautions.
Real water, of course, is but an incidental delight in this superbly staged, vibrantly choreographed and excellently performed evocation of olden days Hollywood. As the show’s knowingly satirical slant underlines, it was a time when the plots were light on irony and the “big numbers” well garnished with high-kicking legs.
Even so, there’s a whiff of irony in the fact that “Singin’ …,” which began life as a 1952 MGM motion picture — screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed — with the movies as its dramatic lever, specifically the disruptive late 1920s transition from silent films to “talkies,” has more recently become fodder for various live stage adaptations. It robs the movie of its meta.
An early adaptation, also featuring real water, played a week at Meridian Hall, then the O’Keefe Centre, in August 1986. The much superior version now before us is the latest iteration of a critically acclaimed 2011 production at England’s Chichester Festival, directed by Jonathan Church, its then artistic director. The show later transferred to London’s West End for a long run and in 2021 was revived there. After a U.K. tour, this production, featuring several of its original lead performers, is making its North American debut in Toronto.
“Singin’ in the Rain” centres on the plight of silent screen idol Don Lockwood and his blond wannabe fiancée co-star, Lina Lamont. Their fame is founded on creaky romances with titles such as “The Royal Rascal” and “The Duelling Cavalier.”
The unexpected arrival of talking pictures places their careers and the fortunes of Monumental Pictures in jeopardy. With “The Duelling Cavalier” already in production, can they pivot to sound? The chances are promising except Lina has a challenged larynx. She squawks like a crow and is tone deaf. Lockwood’s ever-resourceful friend, Cosmo Brown, has the answer. Make it a musical and have the sweet-voiced Kathy Selden, a rising starlet with whom Lockwood is madly in love, dub Lina’s vocals. The incurably vain Lina is naturally incensed when she discovers what’s going on and tries to destroy her romantic rival’s career. It hardly needs saying that Lina fails and is exposed for the shallow no-talent she always was.
Screen-to-stage musical adaptations are less typical than the reverse and tend be reserved for the best-loved movies. Many more people are likely to have seen a hit movie than have attended even the longest-running stage musical. Thus, casting comparisons can become an issue. The fact that the stage version of “Singin’ …” cleaves close to the screen original can almost make it feel as if you’re watching the movie itself.
The ghosts of screen originals — Gene Kelly as Don, Jean Hagen as Lina, Debbie Reynolds as Kathy and Donald O’Connor as the wisecracking Cosmo — inevitably hover over their successors.
Fortunately, 70 years is a long time. And, while the movie version is now considered among the greatest of its genre, it’s questionable how many in today’s audiences are particularly familiar with it beyond ubiquitous online clips of such famous numbers as “Good Morning” and the title song. This leaves space for the current stage cast to inject their roles with genuine personality rather than ape their now legendary predecessors. They take full advantage of the opportunity.
It’s hard to know where to start. As Lockwood, Sam Lips has an easy charm and mellow voice that never wavers through even the most stressful moments of Andrew Wright’s choreography. And, yes, he nails his rainy moment.
Lina Lamont is written to be unlikeable and to sound even worse. Yet, Faye Tozer, renowned in Britain and beyond as part of the very successful pop band Steps, injects such an element of vulnerability into the character that her rendering of “What’s Wrong With Me” is as poignant as it’s funny.
Charlotte Gooch stands out for her dancing as much as for her singing and is spot on in capturing Kathy’s fundamental decency.
As Cosmo, Don’s always supportive problem solver, Alastair Crosswell endearingly never puts a foot wrong.
Michael Brandon, reprising the role of studio boss RF Simpson that he created in the original 2011 Chichester production, almost stops the show with his ungainly attempt at a tap routine.
The show is a visual delight, thanks to set and costume designer Simon Higlett and his colleague in the lighting department, Tim Mitchell. The cavernous grey walls of a Hollywood sound stage feature huge doors at the back. When opened they become a portal to Act II’s fantasy dance sequences and the stage-within-a-stage proscenium that frames poor Lina’s humiliating exposure. Higlett’s palette captures all the Technicolor vibrancy of the 1952 movie.
Video designer Ian William Galloway’s recreations of stereotypical silent movies and of the trial runs for Kathy’s vocal substitutions offer some of the show’s funniest moments.
The 14-piece band under Robert Scott’s direction is terrific and whoever was working the board on Thursday night got the amplified balance of voices and music just right.
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Credit: Review | Stage version of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ makes a delightful splash at the Princess of Wales Theatre