Made in 1952, this masterpiece of the classical Hollywood musical genre was voted fifth in the American Film Institute’s top 100 greatest films of all time and it’s not hard to see why it has endeared itself to generations of film and music lovers ever since, with its comedy, its variety of tunes, its range of characters and its opportunity for big chorus numbers.
Set in Hollywood in the late 1920s, the film industry is on the brink of upheaval with the arrival of the very first talking picture, ‘The Jazz Singer’. Eager to emulate that film’s success, Monumental Pictures’ studio head R.F.Simpson decides to convert his current picture into a talkie, the only trouble being that his leading lady, Lina Lamont, has the most abrasive New York accent. Neither can she sing, so the studio’s leading man, Don Lockwood, arranges for her to be dubbed (much to her disgust) by up-and-coming actress Kathy Seldon.
Lamont, naturally enough, pulls rank on Kathy, to ensure that she doesn’t get the credit she deserves, whereupon Lockwood, together with his friend Cosmo Brown, finally exposes Lamont’s sham, but not before he has fallen in love with Kathy and she with him.
The original film, starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor, has long-since achieved iconic status, excerpts being used in the 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and a 2005 VW Golf commercial; but it is almost without doubt that the majority of the viewing public will know it best for Morecambe and Wise’s loving pastiche of the title song in their 1976 Christmas TV special.
WM&OS clearly have a good range of talent at their disposal; Chris Horn was an amiable, though rather subdued Don Lockwood, with a pleasant singing voice, though at times the film star’s leading-man charisma seemed just a bit below the surface. Sarah Mulcare was a pert and star-struck Kathy Seldon, and her duets with Lockwood were warmly received, particularly ‘You Were Meant For Me’ and ‘You Stepped Out of a Dream’. (Note to producer: it would have been nice to have the songs listed in the programme).
Wesley Buckeridge was a likeable, clownish Cosmo, and Simon Meanwell-Ralph (as Roscoe Dexter) was an over-the-top (though beautifully dressed) film director. Studio boss R.F.Simpson is a typically bluff, though vacillating character and Peter Barber had him off to a tee. But as Lina Lamont, a “shimmering, glowing star in the motion-picture firmament”, Katie Hickson had the best lines and the best laughs and delivered right on cue with her ferocious determination to dominate the film despite her inability to either act or sing. Her solo ‘What’s wrong with me?’ was perhaps the highlight of the evening.
Director/Choreographer Suzanne Hall made the most of her sizeable company in the big production numbers and MD Katherine Rockhill’s piano accompaniment throughout the show perfectly evoked the music of the age.
Singin’ in the Rain runs at the Theatre Royal, Winchester until 10th November 2018