The onstage rain that drenched the London and Broadway casts of the Donmar’s “Mary Stuart” came as a shock: Who knew 18th century Schiller loved special effects? But while there’s undeniable pleasure in watching Adam Cooper’s Don Lockwood dancing in a downpour — and kicking great arcs of water into the delighted front rows — the effect in “Singin’ in the Rain” is more expected than special. Alas, with the exception of Katherine Kingsley’s terrific Lina and Daniel Crossley’s deft Cosmo, the same can be said of the rest of Jonathan Church’s production.
It’s been only seven years since London last saw a production of the stage version of the movie masterpiece. That production was a damp squib not least because suitably handsome Adam Cooper, although an expressive, athletic dancer, lacked charisma as Don. Sadly, his second attempt at the role still lacks dynamism. Watching him with Scarlett Strallen’s warm if rather too polished Kathy Selden, the song that springs to mind is from another movie altogether: “It Only Happens When I Dance With You.” Their dance partnering lifts their relationship and the show. When they’re earthbound, there’s no chemistry.
Yet even in the dance segments, choreographer Andrew Wright seems too in thrall to Gene Kelly’s work. Clearly, audiences for a re-creation such as this are likely to want to see moments they know — there are whole sections of the title number, for instance, that are famous even to those who have never seen the whole movie. But was it strictly necessary to slavishly copy so much, even the faux coy hands-on-knees movements in “All I Do” when Kathy jumps out of the cake?
The same applies to this version of the “Broadway Melody” sequence. It’s overlong onscreen; onstage it feels even longer. The leaping, jostling crowd work is faithfully referenced, likewise Cyd Charisse being sultry with a chair. But while the dancers hurl themselves at the material, the applause they win seems like a reward for effort rather than choreographic invention or excitement. The temperature at the end of the number is no higher than at the beginning.
Throughout the night, the most successful sequences (and characterizations) are those that reinvent the original. “Moses Supposes” is turned from a duet with a vocal coach out of his depth into a zinger of a trio with David Lucas’ coach joyfully seizing his moment. And as is now traditional in the stage version, there is a second-act solo for Lina, alone and perplexed at her dressing table, with “What’s Wrong With Me?”
As willowy as Jean Harlow and with a squeal that could slice cheese, Kingsley’s Lina nails her every moment. Both she and Crossley pull off the considerable trick of reminding you of the originals while finding a spin of their own — she constantly works fresh laughs with her accent while he makes Cosmo crisply droll.
Simon Higlett’s rampantly colorful costumes make up for the blandness of his single set. As the plot takes over, the good-heartedness of the endeavor proves persuasive. Yet there’s a niggling sensation that opportunities are being missed with the decision to match expectation rather than to invent. The more exact the copying, the more it underlines the fact that a movie was the perfect medium through which to make a satire about moviemaking. A stage show about moviemaking is always going to be a tougher call.