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‘Singin’ in the Rain’ Splashes Up Storm of Dance: London Stage

February 20, 2012

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Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- If you need a shower, sit in the first five rows at the new show “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The famous title sequence drenches the stage of the Palace Theatre with thousands of gallons of falling water, and Adam Cooper (in the lead role of silent-movie star Don Lockwood) has enormous fun kicking it straight into the audience.

Though it’s not the first time the 1952 movie (directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly) about the advent of film talkies has transferred to the stage, it’s probably the first time it has been done live with such eye-popping exuberance and detail in the choreography. Cooper, a former principal with the Royal Ballet, invests even the smallest move with meaning and emotion. In proper musical-comedy fashion, he makes it look so easy.

Throughout the show, choreographer Andrew Wright references many of the well-known steps from the film. The sequence in which the three leads step over a sofa at the end of the number “Good Morning” is true to the original, even though they use a park bench rather than a sofa. There’s a lively version of the “Broadway Melody” ballet, with dancer Ebony Molina doing a slinky take on the Cyd Charisse vamp role.

Some of the numbers are even more generously staged than in the film. When Don and his friend Cosmo go to a diction coach (David Lucas) the three of them perform the lively patter-type song “Moses Supposes.” In the movie, the buttoned-up coach is merely a stooge: Here he bursts out of his shell and gets as much to do as the leads. It’s a joy.

Risky Backflip

Daniel Crossley does a superb turn as the clownish Cosmo, and his “Make ‘em Laugh” number is packed with clever sight gags. One disappointment: He doesn’t do the up-the-wall backflip that Donald O’Connor manages in the film. Since O’Connor was hospitalized because of it, it’s probably just as well.

Scarlett Strallen brings the right note of sweetness and feistiness to the ingenue role of Kathy Selden, and earns her hoofer chops in her duets with Cooper. Katherine Kingsley is hilarious as her nemesis, the egomaniacal and squeaky-voiced movie diva Lina Lamont.

Some fun new lines have been added to the dialogue. “She can’t sing, she can’t act, and she can’t dance,” says Cosmo of Lina. “She’s a triple threat.”

Director Jonathan Church sets all the action on a studio film lot, which easily transforms into a sidewalk, an office or a vaudeville venue as need arises. If it were any slicker it would slide off the stage.

This is an old-fashioned, all-singing, all-dancing delight.

Rating: ****.

Salty Romp

Josie Rourke sets out her stall as new artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse by staging George Farquhar’s 1706 comedy “The Recruiting Officer.”

It’s a complicated Restoration-style romp, which involves a girl dressing as a boy to enlist with her recruiting-officer lover. There are intricately knotted love tangles as subplots.

The language is rich and salty, and the subject of amorous love is never far from the dialogue. “She would have the wedding before the consummation, and I was for consummation before the wedding. We could not agree,” says rakish Captain Plume about his lover Sylvia.

Rourke delivers a handsome period-costume production, and a lively band of musicians intersperses the action with songs and takes on small roles. Nancy Carroll has a dignity and freshness as Sylvia, the girl who dresses as a boy, and Mackenzie Crook brings melancholy humor to the role of the rascal Sergeant Kite.

Smirking Fop

Good as they are, both are outshone by Mark Gatiss (writer of and actor in the BBC hit television series “Sherlock”) as the bewigged and outrageously foppish Captain Brazen. With his perfectly judged conspiratorial smirks and asides, he plays the audience like a Stradivarius.

For all that, the play’s mannered cynicism and mechanical plotting become tiresome after a while, and Rourke could have made cuts. A running time of 2 hours 50 minutes is too long, and a final note of pathos in a tableau that hints at some of the real horrors of warfare feels tacked-on.

Nevertheless, there’s fun to be had. It looks as if the Donmar’s in safe hands.

Rating: **1/2.

“Singin’ in the Rain” is at the Palace Theatre, 109-113 Shaftesbury Avenue, W1D 8AY. Information: +44-844-412-4656 or www.singinintherain.co.uk.

“The Recruiting Officer” is at the Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, WC2H 9LX. Information: +44-844-871-7624 or www.donmarwarehouse.com.

(Warwick Thompson is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

--Editors: Jim Ruane, Mark Beech.

To contact the writer on the story: Warwick Thompson, in London, at warwicktho@aol.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.


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