'Singin' in the Rain', screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed (Abingdon Operatic Society)
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN by Betty Comden & Adolph Green (screenplay) and Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed (Songs)
Abingdon Operatic Society (AOS)
Amey Theatre, Abingdon School, Abingdon, OX14 1DE
17-21 April 2018
Singin' in the Rain must be one of, if not the, best known film musicals from Hollywood's golden age, and when we see it on stage, we want to see it 'like it is in the movie'. Abingdon Operatic Society (AOS) accordingly have aimed at 'a faithful adaptation of the film ...and ...endeavoured to be faithful to the source material and the spirit of the show'. Terry Atkinson's first production for AOS succeeds in that goal, and the result, on the Friday evening performance I attended, was a very satisfied audience.
Atkinson was well served by his two lieutenants. Stephen Pascoe (musical director) drew some rich and polished vocal performances from not only the principals but the chorus too. Setting dance routines within the confines of a mere stage, when the audience has, in its memory bank, the limitless space that film can deliver, is always going to be challenging. However, choreographer Judy Tompsett gave us the feel of a big musical production on the not-terribly-big stage of the Amey Theatre. The routine for Good Morning was a case in point. In the movie, Kelly, Reynolds and O'Connor move from room to room in Don Lockwood's Hollywood mansion. Tompsett's dance routine kept the dynamism of the original and included the obligatory walking up and over the sofa (perfectly executed, by the way).
Wisely, Atkinson stuck to one main set, achieving scene changes with lighting shifts and prop swaps. One point for attention, however, was the use of music during scene changes (or not), a number of which were either completed without accompaniment or with music that ran out part way through. The stage hands carried out their tasks efficiently enough, but if you have a band there, use them consistently please.
While we're on sound issues, the sound levels for the soloists were not always consistent. A handful of times, they blasted out at the limit of what was comfortable. On a couple of occasions, they were a bit too quiet. Something for the techies.
The presence at the Amey of a retractable projection screen gave a wonderful opportunity to show clips from the movies of Lockwood and Lamont at apposite moments. As someone who has been involved in film-making himself, I appreciate that these comic vignettes will have taken time and resources to plan, shoot and edit. It will have a been a fun thing for the cast too. All credit to Terry Atkinson, Adam Hoare, Colin Puckey and Mike Ward of the film production team.
Our Kathy Selden in this production was Kate Brock, whose voice seemed perfectly matched to the role originally played by Debbie Reynolds. Kate has a beautifully expressive voice with a wonderful colouring to it and it was a pleasure to hear her sing. She was no slouch either when it came to the hoofing. Don Lockwood's part was taken by Paul Bruce, another possessor of a fine voice that could soar romantically when he called on it to do so. The third of the two leads(!), of course, is Cosmo Brown and Tom Draper Rodi gave us a wiry, coiled-up Cosmo close enough to the manner of Donald O'Connor. The show benefited greatly from these three actors, whose singing and tightly danced routines were a pleasure to listen to and watch.
Kathy's, Paul's and Tom's voices were not the only ones to bring enjoyment though. Of especial mention is Kerry Callaghan as Lina Lamont, who had not a voice, but The Voice. No one who has watched the movie will ever forget Lina's high-pitched drawl that could shatter windows and strip paint at a hundred yards. To master that voice was Kerry's major challenge. She not only replicated it, but sustained this extraordinary vocal performance through the show, endowing it with a characterisation that at times made the awful Lina sympathetic. Kerry's rendition of What's Wrong with Me? was a well judged balance of pathos and vulnerability on the one hand, and a reminder of why she was destined to fall from stardom in the talkies era, on the other. Bravo!
Quick pats on the back to Louis Harrison and Martin Ludden, who played the young Don and Cosmo in the opening number, 'Fit as a Fiddle'. Also to Philip Charlesworth as RF Simpson, film producer, looking and sounding every inch the movie mogul.
The songs and dancing were tip top and a pleasure to watch. Where I would sound something of a negative note is on the non-singing scenes that punctuate the set-piece musical numbers. The former seemed to lack a certain energy. Perhaps it was because the directorial gaze was focused just too much on those musical numbers. In any case, the early verbal exchanges between Don and Cosmo lacked a bit of sparkle. I wasn't convinced these were lifelong collaborators since boyhood. In other exchanges, such as Don and Cosmo's with RF Simpson, the actors weren't biting their cues as they should have done, and often, though not always, there was a stillness, even a slight awkwardness, in the exchanges that we didn't see in the musical pieces. We needed those dialogues to crackle more.
Final brownie points to the ladies and gentlemen of the Orchestra who provided the big sassy sound that this show needs (and to Stephen Pascoe, again, for directing them). Also to Stuart Beesley and Nigel Milward on lighting. By the way, small point, but I was seated in the balcony, a couple of rows in front of the control box and could hear occasionally loud stage whispers from on high – something to bear in mind for the future.
This was my first outing to see a show from AOS, and I was impressed with the professionalism of the company, and that includes the singing and dancing talents of the chorus. When you attempt to replicate one of the great screen musicals the pressure is on, and of course one will always fall short. But, on this occasion at least, the distance between aspiration and achievement was impressively small.
About the Author
Mike Lord has been involved with amateur theatre for over twenty years, mainly as an actor but also, more recently, as a director.
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