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Photo credit: Singin' in the Rain (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

'Singin' in the Rain' starring Adam Cooper makes a small splash

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

​​Trust the British weather to make the opening of Singin' in the Rain an immersive experience, with a flurry of umbrellas outside the theatre to match those onstage. And while the revival of Jonathan Church's 2011 Chichester production was certainly cheering on a drizzly night, faithfully re-creating the beloved movie, it never really wowed.

Partly, it had the misfortune of following the explosive Anything Goes, which set an enormously high bar for Golden Age musicals. But while that production felt fresh and dynamic, Church's is more of a dutiful retread. Sticking so closely to the film means that comparisons are inevitable, and inevitably unflattering; it's a tough ask for anyone to match the lighting-in-a-bottle magic that is Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, and Debbie Reynolds leading a peerless cast. And this latest company is also trying to match the original, acclaimed stage production.

In the case of Adam Cooper, who reprises the Gene Kelly role, he's competing against his younger self. Ten years on, this former Royal Ballet Principal and New Adventures star is still a strong leading man, evoking Kelly's exciting athletic grace. But his portrayal of Don Lockwood, the silent movie actor whose career is threatened by the talkies, doesn't dig terribly deep, and Don's relentless pursuit of Kathy Seldon (an element that hasn't aged well) comes across as aggressively predatory.

He's more engaging when playing off best pal Cosmo - Strictly's Kevin Clifton providing likeable if signposted clowning. "Moses Supposes" is good fun, though both performers are more comfortable dancing than singing; the vocals quickly grow ragged. Throughout the show, the classic musical effortlessness just isn't quite obtained.

It comes closest in Andrew Wright's big dance routines. The Broadway ballet is slickly delivered by the well-drilled ensemble, decked out in rainbow colours by Simon Higlett, and there's a slinky, jazzy-accented turn from Harriet Samuel-Grey. The iconic title number, featuring a rain machine, feels the most theatrically alive, since Cooper - drenched from head to toe - merrily splashes the first few rows. And when Don sets the Hollywood scene for a love song, with cheesy effects like mist and moonlight, it does actually grow into a touching moment thanks to the partnering of Cooper and the equally elegant mover Charlotte Gooch.

Unfortunately, Gooch otherwise feels miscast. She lacks Kathy Seldon's ingenue gawkiness - she's a too-glamorous blonde who could be mistaken for Lina Lamont, so her criticisms of Don's ham acting come across as mean hectoring rather than naïve sparring. And, crucially, given that Kathy's angelic voice is such a key plot point, Gooch lacks that pure tone: in the upper register, she can sound reedy and shrill. The chemistry between her and Cooper is underwhelming.

In fact, it's Faye Tozer as Lina Lamont who walks away with the show. She has a ball with Lina's paint-stripping Brooklyn accent, giving us a symphony of squeals, squeaks, and squawks, juxtaposed with supreme self-assurance and diva stylings. She's less vindictive, more delusional, as is made clear in one of the few changes from the film: her Act II solo number, which has a hint of Guys and Dolls' Adelaide in its fretful questioning. Oddly, the cartoon baddie becomes the most sympathetic, well-rounded character.

Betty Comden and Adolph Green's backstage drama is still a hoot, as the studio is plunged into an existential crisis. Cavin Cornwall, Michael Matus, and Sandra Dickinson are all good value, and the spoof silent film and subsequent disastrous first attempt at a talking picture are genuinely hilarious (great work from video designer Ian William Galloway and sound designer Gareth Owen). Fab, too, is Higlett's vivid 1920s design, and the jubilant band under Robert Scott. A likeable show, then, just not a storming one.

Singin' in the Rain is at Sadler's Wells to 5 September.

Photo credit: Singin' in the Rain (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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