Review: Singin' In The Rain at Liverpool Empire ****1/2
What are the odds? You wait for one platinum jubilee to roll along, and then two materialise in quick succession.
Singin’ In The Rain, arguably the greatest movie musical ever that doesn’t involve nuns and Nazis, burst on to British cinema screens in all its Technicolor glory in September 1952, months after the UK gained itself a new young monarch.
Who would have thought that both would still be going strong 70 years later?
Unlike many of its illustrious big screen stablemates, the musical (which was surprisingly only modestly successful back in 1952) started life on celluloid and only much later made its way to the stage – next year is the 40th anniversary of the latter.
Jonathan Church’s benchmark production of the tale of the fractious birth of the talkies was first staged a decade ago, and this welcome revival comes to Liverpool on tour after a spell at Sadler’s Wells.
Sticking loyally close but still bringing a freshness to Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s original, it’s an effervescent, feelgood delight packed with sleek and energetic choreography, enjoyable wisecracking dialogue and colourful characterisation.
Don Lockwood (understudy Peter Nash on opening night) and Lina Lamont (Jenny Gayner) are the studio’s golden couple, but it’s 1927 and change is a-coming to Hollywood. While Don embraces the talkies – along with winsome, talented chorus girl Kathy Selden (the lithe Charlotte Gooch) – the high-maintenance Lina has a more challenging time.
Will their latest movie be a monumental disaster, or a talkies triumph?
Nash brings an easy, urbane charm and smooth, melodic vocals to leading man Lockwood, and proves a very watchable partnership with both Gooch’s sweet-voiced ingenue Kathy and with Kevin Clifton’s childhood friend Cosmo.
Above: Kevin Clifton as Cosmo Brown. Photo by Manuel Harlan. Top: The Broadway Baby ballet
He delivers his two biggest dance numbers – the Broadway Baby ballet interlude and the titular Singin’ In The Rain – with aplomb, and in the latter’s case with a real sense of joy and an unexpected soaking for the front of the stalls. Beware!
Meanwhile like sister Joanne, Clifton has successfully made the transition from Strictly dancefloor to stage musical and he brings a sparky energy and impressive comic timing to his singin’, dancing slapstick sidekick.
And Gayner is evidently having an absolute blast as the magnificently monstrous Lina, her high-pitched Brooklyn whine carrying to the far reaches of the upper circle and her character’s protracted battle with the birth of sound a real delight to watch.
There’s also a lively cameo from Sandra Dickinson as gushing radio host Dora and some nifty vocal and footwork from Alistair Crosswell's dialect coach.
The Empire’s capacious auditorium gives designer Sam Higlett’s Monumental Pictures set the lofty back lot feel it needs and the action is sympathetically lit by Tim Mitchell, while the on-stage band provides brassy Jazz Era razzamatazz.
Conceived in the golden age of musicals but harking back further to a time when audiences wanted nothing more than to be royally entertained, it's a winning combination which means that in 2022 Singin’ In The Rain still gives its viewers a glorious feeling.