Elegant leading man Adam Cooper has been knocking about in stage versions of Gene Kelly’s iconic 1952 movie ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ for the best part of 20 years now – first in a 2004 Sadler’s Wells production that he choreographed, and then in the 2011 Chichester production, now brought back for 2021.
And it’s still pretty solid, albeit overshadowed by both the movie, and – more immediately – ‘Anything Goes’ over at the Barbican, another golden age musical revival with a bigger budget, stronger production and a turn from star Sutton Foster that puts every other musical theatre performer in London in the shade.
If you’re not familiar, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ follows silent movie star Don Lockwood (Cooper), his sidekick Cosmo (Kevin Clifton), and his new love interest Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch), who meets Don at the height of his fame and rather brutally suggest he’s not a proper actor (her point underscored by a series of hammy faux movie clips).
The smug Don is sent into an existential spin that’s exacerbated by the release of Warner Bros’s game-changing talkie ‘The Jazz Singer’. Suddenly his impetuous studio boss RF (a fun Cavin Cornwall) is demanding their next film features sound too. This is unfortunate as Don’s long-term on-screen squeeze Lina (Faye ‘Faye from Steps’ Tozer) has a torturous Brooklyn accent and a total inability to grasp why it’s a problem in the new medium. But our heroes have a plan…
Cooper is an undeniably terrific dancer, supernaturally light on his feet, with an effortless, matinee idol charisma. His new castmates are good too: for me ‘Strictly’ star Kevin Clifton was the unexpected highlight: obviously the man can dance, but he’s really no slouch as a comic actor, delightfully droll as the self-deprecating Cosmo. And fair play to Tozer, who gamely nails her pantomime villain-style role (even if the treatment of Lina now feels wildly classist).
But the film is so iconic, and the stage musical is so in thrall to the film, that you feel the lack of its titanic original stars (Kelly and Debbie Reynolds), and that Jonathan Church’s stage production simply has no visual answer to Harold Rosson’s wildly innovative cinematography.
Of course, the best thing about Andrew Wright’s choreography being a slavish homage to the film is you get to see all your favourite bits live. The best songs – ‘Make ’Em Laugh’, ‘Good Mornin’’, ‘Moses Supposes’ – are terrific fun. And the title number is the show’s one true moment of magic: a big old rain machine is deployed to turn the stage into a watery wonderland that Cooper dances through with blissful grace. The fact that he’s palpably getting soaked – and is indeed sploshing H2O over the front rows – gives it a viscerality that easily justifies the expense of the set-up. It is a glorious moment.
Still, unless you’re a raging hydrophile, you’d be mad not to see ‘Anything Goes’ first. It is a pity that ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ doesn’t have many ideas beyond ‘try and recreate the film on stage’. But it means you know what to expect – and it delivers.