It doesn’t get any better than this. Why it’s even better than the movie! Most of us will have seen it on TV. It’s one of those Christmas favourites, like It’s A Wonderful Life. And everyone in the world must have seen the clip of Gene Kelly doing his thing with an umbrella and a lamp post, while the rain cascades down. A hard act to follow. But Sam Lips, as the silent movie star who transitions to the talkies, follows on superbly well. Water pours down from the sprinklers. He gets drenched every night. But after this number ends in Act 1, he emerges dry as a bone at the start of Act 2. Just one example of the nifty scene and costume changes in this production.
Perhaps, however, it is the choreography that is the outstanding feature of this outstanding show. After all, as the song goes, it’s “Singin’, and dancin’, in the rain.” As well as excellent Ensemble displays, there are astonishing feats of athleticism by, in particular, Ross McLaren, the movie star’s buddy, who risks doing himself a mischief in the execution of his amazing comic routines. A fall guy indeed.
What about the songs? No worries there – some are classics! Charlotte Gooch, as the overlooked actress who eclipses an established star, shines as a ballad singer. A word must be said about the orchestra, too. After the ear-splittingly loud music with which my ears were rocked on my last visit to Wimbledon, it was a joy to hear good tunes played at a decibel level that turned the auditorium into a pleasure dome.
Finally, the story. Set in Hollywood just after The Jazz Singer came out in 1927 – unlike this MGM classic, not one to be spotted on TV nowadays – the big studios are scrambling to make the change from silent movies to talking pictures, and some of the stars of the silent screen have become falling stars. The flamboyant gestures of their acting style are unsuited to the greater naturalism of the talkies, and some of their voices belie their good looks. Such is the fate of Jenny Gayner, the glamour queen whose squeaky voice renders her unfit for the new era.
This is an era whose panache and style show up the sloppy, dressed-down appearance of today, and is to be savoured right now on the Wimbledon stage. I love those suits! But you don’t have to, in order to have a great night out.
- Director: Jonathan Church
- Based on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film
- Songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed
- Starring: Sam Lips, Charlotte Gooch, Ross McLaren, Jenny Gayner
- New Wimbledon Theatre, London
- Until: 02 July 2022
- Running time: 2 hrs and 45 min including an interval