Singin’ in the Rain, the classic Gene Kelly tap musical about a silent movie company and its stars during the invention of the first ‘talking pictures,’ was a fantastic introduction to commercial West End London Theatre. Despite my horrendous balcony cheap seats (see picture below), I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a fun big budget musical with catchy music and an interesting storyline.
Don’s (Adam Cooper) first encounter with Kathy (Scarlett Strallen), the woman he is going to fall madly in love with, was one of my favorite non-dance moments of the show and gets everything off to an exciting start. Not only do we get to see a sensible, strong-willed woman hold her own in front of a movie star, but the scene brings up themes that proceed to be relevant throughout, about degrees of realism in both movie and live acting and how they have changed over time. For Kathy, a live performer, silent movies are about silly gestures and cheap gimmicks–but hasn’t theatre been the same way for most of its history? The juxtaposition of stage vs. screen acting is present throughout the show, especially as we watch on stage scenes of the movie being filmed, thus making real to us as the audience the actual debates going on at that time.
The music and dance in the show is, of course, phenomenal. We have to wait until the second act to see most of the full company numbers, which is a little upsetting, but they do have to stick the plot somewhere. The tap numbers are particularly strong and bring out humour and personality to characters who otherwise might not be as interesting to pay attention to, such as Studio Exec R. F. Simpson (Robert Powell).
The star of the show, in my opinion, was Daniel Crossley, who played best friend and composer Cosmo Brown. Crossley was a comedic and athletic powerhouse, as well as genuine, modest, and relatable. My only point to pick with the acting was the one-dimensional portrayal of the show’s ‘villain,’ Lina Lamont (Katherine Kingsley). I have a lot of sympathy for the character, whose happy and successful business as a silent actress falls apart when technology moves forward to require actors to do what she cannot, and leaves her behind. There is a hint of that sadness during the short scene of Lina with her vocal coach, but for the most part Lina is hilariously but uninterestingly self-centred to the exclusion of anything else.
The design aspect of the show had some hits and misses. The costumes were brilliant, iconically 1920s without being cliche, and the contrast between the bright, bold colours of the casts’ performance outfits and their muted everyday attire really made those colours pop. The designers elegantly integrated the movie screen into the set so that it felt like it belonged, and still allowed all of the movie clips to be easily visible. The majority of the stage, however, was taken up by a large, ugly wooden floor, serving as both a tap floor and drainage system for the famous singing in the rain scene, and any set pieces brought on and off during the show were dwarfed by this massive floor space. I understand the need for an efficient gutter system for this show, but I wish they had found a more elegant way to do it.
More than anything, though, Singin’ in the Rain is just fun. Even the interval (intermission) during which we watch a costumed crew swiffer the stage dry is a performance in and of itself. The songs are unabashedly ’20s but still relatable, and the dancing just brought the entire show to life. Definitely worth seeing, maybe even seeing again, certainly worth finally looking up the words to the title song after the first stanza that I can never remember, because that song isn’t leaving my brain for a while.
(Bonus picture: For the most part, the Palace Theatre’s architecture is beautiful and classy. On the staircase leading up to the highest balcony, however, we get this lovely sculpture. Don’t ask; I really have no idea.)