trio in rain

Sam Rogers as Cosmo, left, Ben Tanner as Don and Isabella Kibble as Kathy with ensemble behind. Pictures: Sam Bagnall

Singin’ in the Rain

Stage Expereince

The Alexandra Theatre


What a glorious feeling, just singin’ and dancin’ in the rain on a night shining bright with hopeful stars of the future.

It’s the 16th Stage Experience at the Alex, showcasing the wealth of talent among youngsters in the Midlands, this time with the stage adaptation of MGM’s 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain.

It is set in 1927 and the end of silent movies when Warner Brothers produced The Jazz Singer, the first talkie, with its six Al Jolson songs and 354 spoken words. Sound was the death knell for stars who, in silent movies, were dashing romantic leads, or sultry sirens, but in talkies, had voices that made people laugh or cringe, turning adulation to derision among the paying public. Careers crashed and burned overnight.

Singin’ in the Rain makes gentle fun of both silent movies and early talkies in the era in a film forever associated with Gene Kelly, who directed and starred, Donald O’Connor, who won a Golden Globe, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagan, who was nominated for an Oscar.

Big shoes to fill for the four leads but fill them they did with a quartet of superb, assured performances.


Jessica Walton as Lina, illustrating her voice is perfect for silent movies

Ladies first and perhaps the most difficult role was Hagan’s as silent movie star Lina Lamont. Lamont is attractive, sensuous on screen, brings down the average IQ of any room she enters and has a voice that could crack anvils with an accent as thick as . . . well, herself.

Jessica Walton, in her third Stage Experience, plays her to perfection; she is bitchy, has a glorious jarring – and consistent – accent, a sort of barbed wire Brooklyn, and her singing is . . . let’s just say it could sour milk. Singing like that is not the easiest, you have to be pretty good to sing that bad . . . if you see what I mean and we know she can both sing and dance quite beautifully from her role as Cha-Cha Digregorio in Grease here in 2016. She is the villain of the piece but in her big solo number What’s Wrong with Me? you actually feel for her.

If Lina is the baddy then Kathy Seldon is the goody, played by Isabella Kibble. She stood out as Debs in last year’s Boogie Nights and manages it again as the wannabe actress who runs foul of the vindictive Lina.

She is attractive, has a lovely voice, which we know from last year has a great range both musically and in styles and she shows it again with her solo’s You are my Lucky Star and Would You and shows some nifty footwork and tap with the two male stars, Ben Tanner and Sam Rogers, in the energetic and fun, Good Morning.

Ben Tanner, in his eighth Stage Experience show, takes on the Gene Kelly Role as Don Lockwood, the screen lover of Lina, even though offscreen, despite Lina’s insistence, they are an item, he dislikes her on a good day and hates her on a bad.

A chance meeting with Kathy is all it takes for a two-hour song and dance journey through trials and tribulations to a happy ending. Tanner can dance, has a good voice and looks the part so what more can you ask?


Ben Tanner as Dan singin' in the rain . . .

He can even sing in the pouring rain as it lashed down in sheets from the flies, with an equally wet reprise in the finale when half the 101 cast must have got drenched – tumble driers at the Alex must be testing the national grid every night this week. (note to front row audience members – take a mac)

Meanwhile, back on dry land, Tanner’s romantic moments with Kathy are convincing and their duets a delight with a romantic dance sequence on a starlit set a memorable scene.

As for duets . . . Lockwood and Brown, Don and Cosmo, were and still are a double act, and Sam Rogers is a ball of energy as Cosmo. He can dance, sing, play the piano and has perfect comic timing, which is just as well as he has all the best lines and throws in some wonderful comic gestures. It’s his fifth Stage Experience coming after a year out last year.

His Make ‘Em Laugh is a comedy highlight and the double act with Tanner in Moses Supposes is a wonderful duet with tap and timing.

It is a quartet that makes the show although there is good support all around with the likes of studio boss R F Simpson, played by Jarrad Heath and director Roscoe Dexter played by Thom Lambert, and we can’t forget Lina’s sneaky friend and pet grass, Zelda, played by Olivia Wicks.

And interviewing them all is radio reporter Dara Bailey, the radio reporter and Hollywood columnist, based on Louella Parsons, and played by Abby Hammond

don and cosmo

Sam Rogers as Cosmo and Ben Tanner as Don in their Vaudeville days

The show is directed and choreographed again by Pollyann Tanner and once more it is a production that does not look out of place on a professional stage.

There are a few novel touches, such as spraying the audience with water pistols during the opening and closing numbers, and she handles the large cast well with the stage only looking crowded once, during the final number – with everyone on stage for curtain calls.

The rest of the time it never looked more than busy. Along with the tap dancing was the return of the high-kicking, long legged showgirls, shades of burlesque and even hints of the Tiller Girls (ask granddad) in a show full of inventive and interesting choreography.

The excellent nine piece orchestra under musical director Chris Newton kept things moving along in style and Dave Chin’s sound design had the balance about right with Colin Wood’s lighting helping create atmosphere.

An added element is the use of video to screen the stylised silent movie and the excruciatingly bad attempt at a talkie, (videography Corey Phipps).

There is undoubted talent on show, but the stage is a fickle mistress and acting a most precarious profession with talent alone no guarantee of success. The lead quartet, in particular, are a match for the cast of a many a touring show I have seen over the years. All they need is lady luck to smile on them, and all we can do is we wish them well - on this showing they deserve it.

Periods of heavy rain and entertainment are forecast at the Alex until Saturday, 24 August.

Roger Clarke


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