As a show ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is a delight – genuinely funny, richly entertaining with superb (and memorable) song and dance routines and beguiling characters. But it’s not an easy show to put on. The 1950s movie made it seem effortless but, as a stage show, the demands it makes on the whole production team are considerable. There’s the glamorous, yet artificial and competitive world of early 1930s Hollywood movie-making to be evoked alongside the working environments and paraphernalia of sound stages and film sets, plus offices, parks, cinemas … 23 scenes and scene-changes to manage. And there’s a particular street and its lamp – and pouring rain – to create.
For Wellington Operatic Society’s design and backstage team to have worked so hard to make all this happen deserves a round of applause of its own – which is why it has priority in this review. Of course there are technical hitches – and when you’re trying to fly sets manually in and out of tight spaces (and on tight budgets), there are almost bound to be moments when it doesn’t quite happen as it should and when scene changes are slow and staging wobbles, but it works – and it does actually rain and one of the finest scenes in musical theatre is as wet as it has to be. The (very funny) filmed sections work well too – and look as if the team had a romp at Nynehead Court – or was it actually Versailles?
The show makes demands, very different from those in straight drama, on performers too. The four leads must sing, dance and act effortlessly and they should be convincing, if only as stereotypes. Op Soc’s actors taking the roles of Don, Kathy, Cosmo and Lina all have an enviable mix of performance skills – some of them learned for this production – which make this show such a success.
Leon Searle as the charming, debonair, nonchalant – and borderline conceited – star of the silent cinema proves his versatility in following up an award-winning performance as pitbull Bill Sykes in last year’s ‘Oliver’ with an elegant, graceful Don Lockwood. His rich voice and fleet-footed dancing are impressive – and, let’s face it, tap-dancing on a soaking stage, with an umbrella and round a lamp post, whilst singing one of the most well-known songs in musical theatre is … demanding.
Ian Jones delivers the role of Don’s best mate, Cosmo, as a delightful roly-poly Oliver Hardy. He gets most of the best gags and delivers them with fine timing. His solo ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ is packed with slapstick that (mostly) works and is sung with confident gusto. He’s at his very best, though, in his trio piece ‘Good Morning’ which is quite superb – funny, slick and wholly entertaining.
Abi Pring’s Kathy Seldon delivers believable sincerity and freshness to the artificial world of movie-making. Her dance routines with both principals and a very able backing group have an effortlessness that only comes from endless rehearsal. There are carefully structured hints of the essential chemistry between Kathy and Don and the effect is charming.
As dumb blonde, stroppy Lina Lamont, Beth Swan is simply superb. She squeaks and whines in a compelling parody of self-centred bitchiness and her delivery of ‘What’s Wrong With Me?’ has all the discordance of Kate Bush on a (very) bad day. To be able to sing so badly so effectively is quite a feat. One of the shows best lines – “I can’t make love to a bush!” gets her the laugh it deserves.
David Duthie’s RF Simpson is a relaxed and well-studied portrayal of a movie-mogul, for whom money-making comes before honesty; Matthew Browning is impressive and very watchable as Don’s diction coach and smoothly assured in ‘Moses Supposes’ and the lovely ‘Beautiful Girls’; Mike Leach looks suitably agitated as a frazzled Roscoe Dexter, only lacking a loud-hailer and green eye-shade to look perfect.
Of the fine supporting cast, the dancers deserve particular praise. All peroxide blond hair and perma-smiles, they not only present exactly the right look but also deliver some complex choreography. Busby Berkeley had more showgirls – and much bigger stages – to make his elaborate patterns but six girls here create more than a few similar effects. The choreography – Susan Green’s as Director and Maureen Leach’s tap routines – are startlingly good, never over-stretching the limits of performers’ competencies but ambitious, nevertheless.
Op Soc’s costume team have excelled themselves in this production which, given their remarkable achievements in kitting out recent shows, says quite a lot. They have created glitz, style and authenticity – right down to seamed stockings – in every scene and, together with some skillful lighting, have contributed to a show which looks simply brilliant.
Musical Director Hilary Wickham and her team of five musicians smoothly accompany the singers and maintain a tempo which covers some of the more sticky transitions and Susan Green’s impressive direction make for a musical spectacle that does justice to the script and entertains completely.
In the programme notes, Op Soc’s Chairman, Simon Spalding, refers to the show as “perhaps our most ambitious to date.” To have fulfilled that ambition so effectively confirms the society’s status as one of the region’s most accomplished and enterprising theatrical groups. This show is not to be missed!