Singin’ in the Rain

Lyric Theatre, July 9

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Grant Almirall as Don Lockwood singin’ and dancin’ in the rain. Photo: Hagen Hopkins.

Based on the beloved 1952 MGM movie, this production of the musical Singin’ in the Rain is largely faithful to the film. You get what you expect but without the excitement of a truly inventive, reimagined staging.

However, there’s no denying the thrill of the joyous, splashy Singin’ in the Rain sequences at the end of Act I and the finale, which take place in heavy showers (12,000 litres of water apparently), dousing people in the front few rows of the stalls (ponchos provided) and sending the audience out on a high.

Directed by Jonathan Church, who left Sydney Theatre Company in May just months after being appointed artistic director, the production originated at the UK’s Chichester Festival in 2011 then transferred to the West End.

Act I is slow to fire. Apparently Church was given little freedom to rework the original screenplay. Simon Higlett’s set is also partly to blame. Set in Hollywood in the late 1920s as the talkies were about to revolutionise the industry, it’s a clever idea to set the show on a Hollywood soundstage. However, the grey walls make for a drab setting that frequently leeches energy despite coloured back lighting (Tim Mitchell) and attractive costuming. It’s not such an issue in Act II where rainbow hues and illuminated signs brighten the stage for the Broadway Ballet.

The black and white footage of the talkie that they are making, shown on a giant screen, is brilliantly done and extremely funny (video design by Ian William Galloway).

Andrew Wright had more leeway to change the choreography, which is always lively and sometimes thrilling as in the tap routines for Moses Supposes and Good Morning, though we miss some of the famous tricks (like the backflip off the wall) in Make ‘Em Laugh.

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Gretel Scarlett, Jack Chambers and Grant Almirall in Good Morning. Photo: Lindsay Kearney

The iconic pas de deux between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in the film has been replaced by the girl (a wonderful Nadia Coote with gorgeous leg extensions) partnered by the male ensemble and is beautifully danced (the ensemble dancing is sharp throughout) though it doesn’t have quite the same impact as that gorgeous, sexy duet.

Replacing the injured Adam Garcia as Hollywood heartthrob Don Lockwood, South African performer Grant Almirall is a strong dancer, sings well and understands the period style but he doesn’t exude huge charisma.

As aspiring actor and Don’s love interest, Kathy Selden, Gretel Scarlett dances up a storm, sings sweetly and conveys a warm sincerity in a winning performance. Erika Heynatz is a hoot as Don’s shrill, manipulative co-star Lina Lamont. She does a great job of sustaining Lina’s screechy voice and strangled accent, while the scene in which she tries to act in her first talkie is a comic highlight.

As Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown, the elastic-limbed Jack Chambers dances superbly and lands the cheesy, vaudevillian shtick, while Rodney Dobson has just the right comic energy as film director Roscoe Dexter.

The 14-piece band, perched high above the stage, is impressive under musical director Adrian Kirk.

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Rodney Dobson and Erika Heynatz. Photo: Jeff Busby

Overall, it’s a polished production with plenty to enjoy. But apart from the stunning rain routines, it just lacks that special something that makes a good production great.

Singin’ in the Rain plays at the Lyric Theatre until September 4. Bookings: www.ticketmaster.com.au

 A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on July 10

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