Singiní In The Rain
Sadlerís Wells, Saturday 7th August 2004
© August 2004
Turning a classic film musical into a stage musical is no easy task, because people are going to find it very hard not to compare any stage version to that film, the greater the film, the harder it is, and Singiní In The Rain is probably one of the most difficult to transfer effectively. How many of us remember watching Gene Kelly, not to mention Donald OíConnor, and, Debbie Reynolds in that film? How are we going to react to seeing Adam Cooper, Simon Coulthard, and Josefina Gabrielle (however good they may be) inhabit roles that are already so fixed in our mind. Fortunately, The Leicester Haymarket team involved with this production already have a wealth of experience at trying to master this feat. Nine and a half years ago Director Paul Kerryson, Musical Director Julian Kelly, and Assistant Choreographer Greg Pitchery were all involved in tackling a similar problem staging Calamity Jane in Leicester (when Louise Gold and Ricco Ross tackled the Doris Day and Howard Keel roles respectively). Now the Leicester team bring that experience, not to mention: Kerryson & Pitcheryís involvement with a production of The Wizard Of Oz, and Pitcheryís with a production of 42nd Street to bear on this challenge. With a classic role to play is important to have a lead who is capable of making the part their own, no matter who the famous film star was who originated it. (For Calamity Jane they found Gold). And here in Singiní In The Rain we have the most individual of dancers, Adam Cooper. Like Gene Kelly before him, Cooper is the principle choreographer, and as with last yearís production of On Your Toes, he has deliberately decided to do very much his own thing, and not worry about reproducing classic choreography. This is the wisest thing he could do, because it means he choreographs it in the way that is right for him as a dancer (just as Gene Kelly and co choreographed the film in the way that was right for him to dance it).
Plot wise this stage show thankfully sticks pretty closely to the story we already know and expect from the film, but the actors interpretations of those characters are very much their own. Nobody resorts to imitation, they do it in their own way. This is something that is made clear from the start, with Cooper and Coulthardís performance of that classic Kelly and OíConner double-act Fit As A Fiddle. In the following scene, Josefina Gabriella enters with subtle authority, much like she did as Laurey in Oklahoma! You might sense sheís the leading lady, but she doesnít shout her presonce out. It is in this scene too that another important element of this musical comes into play, it is a film history lesson. And Lesson No 1, is† (as Kathy Seldon puts it) that ďFilm acting isnít acting, itís just posturingĒ Serenading her with Your Stepped Out Of A Dream, Adam Cooper shows a side to his performing skills that we didnít really know about before, he can sing rather well, this was not so prominently displayed in On Your Toes, where his role was very much just an acting and dancing one, but MGM stars were all expected to be able to sing, dance and act (and Gene Kelly was of course no exception to that rule).
Onto the party scene, itís Josefina Gabrielleís turn to sing All I Do Is Dream Of You, here she proves that her singing and dancing skills could actually be a slight improvement on Debbie Reynolds in the film. Reynolds did a great job, but sheís primarily a comic-actress (she first came to note doing an imitation of Betty Hutton in a beauty contest for goodness sake); sheíd never really been considered a dancer until she did Singiní In The Rain, and it was amazing that she managed the dance numbers as well as she did on film. However, Josefina Gabrielle is a product of the Arts Educational School and she first came to note as a ballet soloist in the National Ballet Of Portugal. It is perhaps worth noting, how in these ďLeicesterĒ-team shows in London, we keep finding Arts Educational trained performers demonstrating their dancing skills. This production has: Patience Aboiralor, Josefina Gabrielle and of course Adam Cooper. (Last yearís production of On Your Toes involved: Matthew Malthouse, Kathryn Evans, and Adam Cooper. While before that Follies involved: Craig Armstrong, Kathryn Evans, Tiffany Graves, Tony Kemp, Hugh Maynard, Alexis Owen-Hobbs, Andrew Wright, and Louise Gold, with the latter somewhat surprisingly performing a sensational tap number, The Story Of Lucy And Jesse).
On with the show, and moving on to Monumental Picturesí Studios, itís Simon Coulthardís turn to shine and make Donald OíConnorís best known moment in the film, Make ĎEm Laugh ( which bears a marked similarity to Cole Porterís Be A Clown) very much his own. Simon Coulhard has featured in both the previous ďLeicester-teamĒ shows in London, but this is the first one where he has truly emerged as a star in his own right. Now itís time to illustrate that first film history lesson, as the stars Lockwood and Lamont attempt to play a romantic scene, only as itís going to be silent film, their dialogue is actually an argument about Kathy Seldon. Needless to say their on-screen performances, which we actually get shown, via a handy projection screen, are totally unconvincing. If you donít believe youíre characterís emotions when you are acting it, then they audience isnít going to be convinced either, and all you are doing is indeed a load of posturing. We also see the character of Film Director Roscoe, played by Claude Close in action, yelling about the place (he was allegedly loosely modelled on Busby Berkley, who was rather given to yelling about the set, sometimes with disastrous results - as his last directorial attempt in 1949 illustrated). On to Film History Lesson Number 2, Warner Brothersí The Jazz Singer has confounded the sceptics and been a big success, now all the other studios are having to catch up, and convert to sound. (Itís perhaps worth noting that Warner Brothers are still around today, and unlike some, theyíre still in the same business, making films, just like theyíve always done).
A minor character, Errol, played by Dougal Irvine steps out, for the first sound short, to sing Beautiful Girl, with a bevy of chorus girls, plus one girl with slightly more presonce than the others, Josefina Gabrielle of course. She is then invited to audition infront of R F Simpson, You A My Lucky Star. I really enjoyed Josefinaís rendition of this number (In spite of one member of the audience, sitting behind me, falling asleep in the middle of it). I actually think that in many ways this song sounds better in a womanís voice (that may be partly because the first time I ever remember hearing the song was one Christmas when for some obscure reason Janet Ellis was singing on television). I also think its a shame Debbie Reynoldís solo version of the song got cut from the film (although MGM had made her sing it in the wrong key for her). It is right and proper, with a dancer-actress-and-singer such as Josefina Gabrielle in the role that this song should be restored to its rightful first performance in the plot, and I feel she does it justice (even if some members of the audience donít agree with me).† Finding Kathy has a job at the studio Lockwood serenades her with You Were Meant For Me. This number is typical of most of the numbers in the show, the staging is very similar to how it was done in the film, with the girl perched on the ladder, and the leading man turning on the special effects, but acting-wise, Cooper and Gabrielle play it their own way.
Now Hollywood is learning to talk, thereís more work in the motion picture business, with the silent screen actors are taking voice lessons. Adam Cooper and Simon Coulthard succeed in making another Kelly and OíConnor classic very much their own, Moses Supposes. They put the number across so well. Itís very very similar to the way Kelly and OíConnor did it in the film, but not exactly the same, they do it their way. Yet, if you are familiar with the film version, you wonít be disappointed. On to Film History Lesson Number 3, perhaps the most important of our history lessons. The introduction of sound brings its own set of problems, especially when the technology is so new that no one has yet developed rules, techniques and methods for working with it sensibly, and goodness is that necessary. Directional boom mikes would not be invented for around another thirty years, and radio mikes even later, nor were either pre-recording or post-dubbing exactly in use as yet (although post-dub is sort of invented, out of necessity, in the middle of this musical).† Actors werenít yet used to working with microphones, and remembering where they were, as someone says of Lina Lamont ďShe never could remember where the microphone wasĒ, nor were they exactly trained to work with them. We see the crew, played by members of the chorus, struggling to record a soundtrack, trying putting the microphone in different places, including on the actressís clothing. An added complication was that back in those days there were far fewer cables all over the floor, so when the character of Studio Head R.F. Simpson played by Peter Forbes, notices an odd cable on the floor, he says ďIt could be dangerousĒ and picks it up, inadvertently pulling the actress over as he does so. Itís worth taking a moment to note, that the character of Film Producer R.F.Simpson, is supposed to have been based on Singiní In The Rainís lyricist Arthur Freed (who went on to become a film producer, heading MGMís famous Freed Unit), apparently picking up a cable like that was just the sort of thing he would have done.† (Come to think of it, hiring a director prone to yelling was also the kind of error Arthur Freed would make, as it was he who made the dreadful mistake putting Busby Berkley in charge of directing the film version of Annie Get Your Gun). Back to our film history lesson, and the first screening of ĎThe Dueling CavilierĒ), here we get the projection screen on the stage again. Now we see the results of their inexperience with sound, illustrated by the creators of this musical introducing many deliberate mistakes to illustrate the point. This was before filmmakers had learnt such important things as the necessity of wearing rubber soled shoes. We can hear Lockwoodís boots squeaking and crunching on the gravel, while the noisy clanging of the beads on Lamontís necklace is forever irritating our ears. And then the film goes out of synch with the soundtrack.
Back to the plot, again sticking closely to the original, but with our three stars acting it their own way, as they discuss whether there is any way to save the picture, and realise how it could be done. Good Morning. This is one of those really classic numbers, thatís almost impossible to rival. It took Kelly, OíConner and Reynolds many many takes to get it as perfect as it actually was on film, and only when they were all totally exhausted did Director Gene Kelly finally call it a wrap. On stage you have just one chance to get it right. Wisely choreographerís Cooper and Pitchry have made the dance routines just a little less complicated than in the film, not so much leaping over that couch. But itís still a testimony to Cooper, Coulthard and Gabrielleís skill as dancers that they actually pull the number off as well as they do.
If Good Morning had been hard to make their own, Adam Cooper faces an even tougher challenge with the next number, namely that classic title song, Singiní In The Rain. But once again the buzz of seeing this number sung and danced live on stage by an excellent performer works and Adam Cooper makes this classic very much his own. At least while he is dancing it we are so carried along with it as to almost forget other versions of this song (after all that song appeared in about six other films before Gene Kelly did it. On one occasion it was even sung by Judy Garland). Of course Cooperís version is very much modelled on Gene Kellyís classic performance, but as with the Slaughter On Tenth Avenue Ballet in On Your Toes, Cooper has brought in enough of his own distinctiveness as both a dancer and a choreographer to make the number very much his own. I particularly liked the fact that to make things different both the lamp-post and policeman were dispensed with, but instead of a policeman we had a somewhat irate woman, with a bucket, at a handy window. The rain not only comes down from the roof but also up from fountains at the back of the stage. I thought the latter a little unnecessary, but overall the number was put across very well, no mean feat given what a classic it is. Although it makes the first act long, this is the logical place to put an interval, simply because you canít really follow such a famous song, and besides they probably need time to dry the stage.
The second act starts off with two songs I certainly donít remember from the film, and I canít help wondering who theyíre actually by. The first of these is Would You, although the programme bills it as being sung by Kathy and Don, in fact, the first version of the song we hear is a pre-record sung by Ronni Ancona in the role of Lina Lamont. Ronni is clearly an accomplished voice-artiste and impressionist (her credits make that very clear), and just the kind of person who would get cast in the role of Lina Lamont. These days no actress would have a voice like that habitually, but some voice-artistes, such as Ronni, can put it on, she can even sing in the style in which she is imitating (always an asset, but not something all actresses could do). Only after weíve seen her imitation of this number done badly, do we hear how it should sound, when Josefina sings it (in a way this is a bit like the sort of thing that happens in the Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along to the song Good Thing Going - except that I actually liked the Over-the-top-production-number version of that song, at least once Iíd listened to it five times!). Naturally Josefina sings Would You delightfully, and when Adam joins her, we hear once again just how well he can sing a big romantic number.† The second of these two songs is Whatís Wrong With Me, sung by Ronni. This time itís a song thatís clearly meant to be sung in that voice sheís doing. Though I think she drops it a little tiny bit, just enough to actually sing the song decently, because otherwise it really would have been just too tedious.
The excellent Simon Coulthard gets another chance to shine, as Cosmo tries to explain how the picture can be saved, and leads the company into Broadway Melody. This is another number that while broadly similar to the film, is definitely no carbon copy, and a good thing too, as it allows the company to make it their own. One important departure from the film is the use of the Cyd Charisse part. As Josefina Gabrielle is a dancer, she performs the part herself (this is a leading lady after all who created history as Laurey in Oklahoma! by dancing her own Dream Ballet). However, in the case of Singiní In The Rain, this is probably something like the way the part was originally conceived, only Debbie Reynolds really wasnít a dancer, so they had to rework that bit to bring in Cyd Charisse. Unfortunately, Cyd Charisse did the number just a bit too well in the film, and itís the one moment where this wonderful stage production doesnít quite come up to scratch. Josefina Gabrielle is an excellent all round performer, but sadly her ballet dancing just doesnít seem to quite hit the mark that this number demands. However, she certainly deserves to be praised for tackling such a wide-ranging role. When combining two characters originated by wildly different actresses itís hard to come up with a winner all the time. The star of the number, of course is Adam Cooper, as well he should be, for this is the showís big ballet. Now at last he can get to really use his ballet abilities, rather than tap. And of course he makes the most of it. Heís so perfectly suited to these Gene Kelly sort of roles, that I canít help thinking he should do more of them; how about Pal Joey?
Josefina comes up trumps with a sung excerpt, not listed in the programme, of Singiní In The Rain, her interpretation reminds me a little of Judy Garlandís, although she sings it at a slower tempo than Garland did. Then with the great revelation given, itís time for the romantic leads to sing You Are My Lucky Star together, or to be precise first Adam and then Josefina joins in. Here, I must say I think Adam Cooper actually sings it a bit better than Gene Kelly did in the film, so thatís an added bonus. The finale finds the entire company dressed in macs and gum boots, with the exception of the leading man (who remains in his suit and shoes), all armed with brollies singing a grand reprise of the title song, and once again with rain coming down onto the stage. This finale actually puts one very much in mind of the very first MGM musical in which this song was heard, namely Hollywood Revue, in 1929. The reference was further completed, by once verse where the cast just sang the melody rather than the lyrics† - clearly a nod to Buster Keatonís inability to remember the lyrics (when he was one of the many stars singing the song in that 1929 film).
All in all a really excellent night out. I found the show to be thoroughly enjoyable, and felt the cast made it very much their own. The assembled company of: Peter Forbes, Claude Close, Jeanette Ranger, Dougal Irvine, Greg Pitchery, Patience Aboiralor, Sarah Amos, Simon Archer, Tess Cunningham, Richard Curto, Leigh Daniels, Stuart Dawes, Helen Dixon, Tom Dwyer, Juliet Gough, Rebecca Jackson, Amy Ellen Richardson, and, Craig Turbyfield provided strong supporting performances. Of the three main stars. Josefina Grabrielle was just as good as I remembered her in Okalahoma! Simon Coulhard really stood out, in a way that he didnít so much on the previous three occasions when Iíve seen him on stage (well he did stand out a bit in On Your Toes; and admittedly in the other two, Follies and Mamma Mia, I was probably too busy paying close attention to a certain performer, to notice anyone else, very much). Itís Adam Cooper really sums up this whole show, heís perfect casting, and makes the role very much his own, in spite of it having been such a classic film. Thatís the key to this show, yes itís great fun, and it comes across very well in itís own right, but when one stops to consider just what a film it is up against, thatís when one realises just how good this production is, because it jolly well does stand up to the film. Under Paul Kerrysonís masterful direction, this excellent company make it their own.