Singin' in the Rain at Sadler's Wells – review
The hit production returns
Previously seen at Chichester and in the West End, Jonathan Church's glossy stage version of the classic movie musical splashes into Sadlers Wells for summer 2021 ahead of a national tour amidst buckets of escapist happiness, elegant but rousing choreography, and original star Adam Cooper inheriting Gene Kelly's mantle with charisma and athleticism. Cooper is so lithe and charming as screen idol Don Lockwood that you may not necessarily forget Kelly… but you're unlikely to miss him much.
His delightful sidekick for 2021 is Strictly's Kevin Clifton who invests upwardly mobile musician and all round good guy Cosmo with an innate likability and predictably terrific moves. Most of the moments when the show truly lifts off the ground feature Cooper and Clifton front and centre: they are a superb double act.
The female leads are dazzling, yet slightly miscast. The blazingly talented Charlotte Gooch looks and sounds so much like a star from the get-go as the struggling actress who captures Don's heart, that it robs the story of some of It's will they-won't they tension. She's, basically, stunning. As Lina, the silent movie star with a voice like nails scraping down a blackboard, Faye Tozer is funny and glamorous but could amplify the nastiness and narcissism several notches. However, she nails her self-regarding second act solo "What's Wrong With Me", where an uncharacteristically/hilariously reflective Lina ponders if she's less than perfect, to such an extent that this will be a performance to relish once she connects all the dots.
Sandra Dickinson, Cavin Cornwall and Michael Matus all do lovely, vivid work as yestertime Hollywood types, hard of nose but marshmallow of heart.
Slickness is the overriding impression here, from the beautifully choreographed opening which sees the company magically conjure out of thin air Grauman's Chinese Theatre in LA on a movie premiere night in 1927, to a familiar, yet still irresistibly fresh, title number where Cooper joyfully kicks and bowls real water into the front Stalls. The filmed sections, demonstrating the technical issues that the advent of Talking Pictures brought (unwanted background noise, inaudibility at key moments), remain great fun.
It is all highly entertaining, but if it's more delightful to the eye and ear than it is touching to the heart that's probably because this was never supposed to be a stage property. Despite the superb production – Simon Higlett's sets and costumes, Tim Mitchell's lighting and Gareth Owen's especially good sound design are all terrific – hitting the major sweet spots, the script still sounds like a screenplay: until the last section when ingenue Kathy substitutes her voice for that of screen star Lina Lamont in front of a live audience, it never feels like much is at stake. In comparison with the Barbican's Anything Goes which occupies a similar place at the junction between euphoria and escapism, this feels a little undernourished.
Ultimately, few will care. This is a very good time in the theatre, a stage equivalent to comfort food, that does exactly what it says on the tin. The main ingredient would probably read "a warm glow".