Pull on your wellingtons and fasten your raincoat. Yes, perfect for the British summer is the Alexandra Theatre’s 2019 Stage Experience – the wonderful 1950’s classic Singin’ In The Rain. For those unfamiliar with the Stage Experience, every year the Alexandra Theatre opens it’s doors to some of the brightest young stars in the Midlands to put on a full-scale professional performance for a limited run. And it’s always flipping brilliant.
A Brummie Home and Abroad was invited to attend the Press Gala night by the lovely peeps at the Alexandra Theatre. My partner in the crime for this event was Ma Lee. All opinions and thoughts are my own as always.
At 67 years old, this MGM musical is an unlikely choice for a cast and crew of youngsters. It’s a nostalgia-fest and harks back to the early days in Hollywood when the idea of talking in movies was a preposterous idea. Yet as a show it’s full of warmth, comedy, sentimentality, great songs and of course, classic choreography. So it’s a perfect choice. And there is so much energy and enthusiasm coursing through the cast that it’s infectious.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are Hollywood royalty in the age of silent movies. Talking pictures are becoming all the rage though, and beautiful Lina turns out to be someone who should definitely be seen but not heard. Luckily Don’s new beau, the sweet-voiced young starlet Kathy Selden steps in to prevent Lockwood and Lamont becoming a laughing stock.
Tonight’s show begins with a light sprinkling of rain over the audience – we’re not sure if we’re imagining it or not. Our massive cast assembles as we are introduced to Don and Lina, and to Don’s lifelong pal Cosmo Brown. It takes a while to get to those big numbers but boy, they come thick and fast once they start. The dreamy love song “You Were Meant for Me” set against a star-spangled backdrop complete with wind machine. The hilarious and perfectly choreographed “Moses Supposes”. A version of “Good Morning” which Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds would have been proud of. And before the interval, the heavens open and Lockwood swooshes and splashes around the stage, giving those in the orchestra pit and the first few rows something of a soaking.
The second half is much shorter, and the show is well and truly by stolen Jessica Walton as Lamont. She has an immense talent for comedy timing and she keeps up Lina’s shrill “Noo Yawk” accent flawlessly even through her solo number “What’s Wrong With Me?” The show ends with the usual speeches and thank yous for the team behind Stage Experience before a final reprise of all of our favourite numbers from the show. And with just two weeks of rehearsals to pull this show together, every single member of the cast and crew fully deserve their standing ovation.
Handling the Don Lockwood role, famously portrayed by Gene Kelly, is Ben Tanner. He’s a talented actor, singer and dancer, and keeps up the charm and charisma throughout. Sam Rogers plays Lockwood’s energetic sidekick Cosmo Brown and he pulls off those wonderful vaudeville numbers with aplomb. Tanner and Rogers genuinely looked like they were having great fun up there. I recognised Isabella Kibble from last year’s Boogie Nights and she once again pulled off a top performance as bright young star Kathy Selden.
The choreography throughout is excellent. Those iconic moves from the film are all there including the “Good Morning” couch tip and the lamppost pose during the titular song. The tap dancing scenes are also beautifully done, and despite having so many performers on stage for the “Broadway Melody” dream sequence everyone moves around seamlessly.
Mounting a stage production of Singin In The Rain must be a daunting premise for the crew, especially the technical aspects of making it rain on stage. The set itself is kept simple but there are clear transitions between movie theatre, sound stage and street scenes. Vintage Lockwood and Lamont black & white films flicker to life, dramatic music in place of speech. And as the audience, we get front-row seats for the premiere of The Dualling Cavalier in all it’s unintentionally hilarious glory. The costumes are another highlight of the production, evoking the style and elegance of the roaring 20s with fringes, tassles and feathers. There is a most impressive array of hats on show.
Stage Experience has been putting on amazing productions for the past 16 years, and this was no exception. I’m already looking forward to pulling on my legwarmers for Fame, the Stage Experience 2020 show!
Thank you to the Alexandra Theatre for our Press & Gala Night Invite. All photos by Sam Bagnall, used with permission