The Mill at Sonning - Singin' in the Rain
30th November 2019 to 8th February 2020
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
What a glorious feeling...
Singin' in the Rain, at The Mill at Sonning, until February 8
Wow, if you thought no production would get anywhere close to the ever-popular 1952 movie, you should cast an eye over this show. Lavish and spectacular are two words I would use just for starters.
With a large cast of actor/dancers, all of them on top form, some memorable songs, a band of musicians, colourful costumes and lighting and even a full-size movie screen at the back of the stage, all combined to produce a cracking, enjoyable musical show. The screen was used to show excerpts from the films starring Don Lockwood, played convincingly as a man of many parts – actor, singer, comedian – by Philip Bertoli, and Lina Lamont portrayed by Sammy Kelly as an actress who can't sing and has a speaking voice liken broken foghorn. And how well she portrayed that character.
Rebecca Jayne-Davies played Kathy Selden, bringing out her quiet nature and fiery responses when she suspects she is being treated badly. Brendan Cull was Cosmo Brown, Don's sidekick at the film studio and a versatile actor, comedian and dancer he turned out to be. When these four got into their stride I was able to forget, for the moment, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen. Russell Wilcox, Sorelle Marsh and John McManus injected a good measure of humour into the proceedings.
So to the story. This is Hollywood 1927 and Warner Bros have just made the first 'talking picture' so Monumental Pictures must make one as well. Trouble is their leading lady, Lina, puts her foot in it every time she opens her mouth. What to do? Well Kathy Selden, Don's new girlfriend is a good actor/singer and the answer is to dub her voice and patch it on to Lina's on-screen voice. Great idea, good setup for a storyline and the dubbing of actresses’ voices in musicals didn't end in 1927 as the late Debbie Reynolds found out in 1952. This production had everything for a bright Christmas show (except Scrooge and Father Christmas) including colourful costumes, clever lighting, great singing and dancing.
If you are going though, one word of warning, if you have a front row seat the Singin' in the Rain sequence features a veritable downpour of real water. And more rain in the finale. Waterproof covers provided. Splash, splash!
Review from The Times.
What a glorious feeling
What a gorgeous show this is, full of gleam and swish, all satin, feathers and beads. Sequinned flappers sashay on limitless legs and knock back champagne straight from the bottle. Boys with oiled hair as shiny as their patent leather shoes glide, swagger and tap up a storm. And then there’s the rain, in glittering torrents, flying in jewelled droplets from twirling umbrellas and from those dancing feet.
Joseph Pitcher’s production of this musical (based on the classic MGM film written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, first staged in 1983 and much tweaked since), is giddily in love with glamour, showbiz and romance. It’s piquantly bittersweet too. On the silver screen that forms the backdrop to Diego Pitarch’s design is the Norma Desmond-like face of a silent-movie star, eyes gazing melancholically heavenwards beneath her silk turban.
This celebration of cinema is also, of course, an elegy to a bygone era. It’s set in 1927, with Hollywood on the brink of transformation with the advent of talkies. In Pitcher’s deft hands it is mindful as well of what the entertainment industry and the La La Land dream factory have become today. It features a framing device, in which a young woman in ripped denim and leather jacket streams the title song on her phone while poking through vintage memorabilia. When the heroine Kathy Selden, an aspiring stage actress, demands of the matinee idol Don Lockwood, “Why shouldn’t a woman play King Lear?” it feels like a nod to modern cross-gender casting. And there’s a hint of Harvey Weinstein to the creepy portrayal of movie mogul RF Simpson.
That’s done with a gossamer touch, though — overall this is simply pure pleasure. Rebecca Jayne-Davies as Kathy is smart and zesty, Philip Bertioli’s Don creamily smooth. Together they are delicious and never more so than in You Were Meant For Me, in which Bertioli melts Jayne-Davies’s wavering resistance to his charms with swooning elegance.
Ashley Nottingham’s choreography is slick and playful. The street-scene seduction of You Stepped Out of a Dream features singing nuns, a flat-capped delivery boy, a cop and a drunken bum; Make ’Em Laugh has nifty behind-the-scenes business with brooms, planks and costume rails; while the Broadway Melody ballet made famous on screen by Cyd Charisse sizzles with sex. Brendan Cull as Don’s best buddy, Cosmo, has a fast-talking, Chandler Bingish appeal, and Sammy Kelly’s drop-dead leading lady Lina Lamont, whose raucous Noo Yoik accent is exposed by the new sound-recording technology, is poignant and ruthless. The whole thing is topped off with a curtain call of splashy exuberance complete with rainbow rain macs, leaving the audience liberally sprinkled with water and dizzy with delight. Glorious.
There are reviews from LondonTheatre1 ("impressive musical experience... a pleasant and delightful production" - ★★★★), Broadway World ("you'll be hard pressed to find a more impressive show in London than this production... this production really does offer a great value for money and a glorious night out" - ★★★★), The Stage ("perfectly proportioned production... ultra classic, fleet-footed and fun staging of the MGM masterpiece" - ★★★★), Wokingham Today ("music from a live (but hidden) band, dancing to rival Strictly and side-splitting comedy... truly another triumph"), Musical Theatre Review ("direction is beautifully defined with meticulous choreography... it is a real feat of boldness that the Mill is pushing the boundaries" - ★★★★).