Review: Singin’ in the Rain makes a splash at Milton Keynes Theatre

Singin' in the Rain at Milton Keynes Theatre
Singin' in the Rain at Milton Keynes Theatre

With more than 12,000 litres of water used on stage nightly, it can only mean one thing… the Singin’ in the Rain tour has finally arrived in Milton Keynes!

The iconic film which starred the late Gene Kelly is brought to life on the new city theatre’s stage in a truly amazing and must-see production.

James Leece plays silent movie star Don Lockwood while Vicky Binns is his screechy voiced leading lady Lina Lamont in a show that really does have the feel good factor.

This production of Singin’ in the Rain opened at the Chichester Festival Theatre back in 2011 before it transferred to the Palace Theatre in London’s West End the following year where it received huge critical acclaim.

I must confess that before enjoying Wednesday’s evening performance, all that sprang to mind was that brilliant Morcambe and Wise parody sketch on television in which Eric always seemed to be standing in the wrong place as water pours from the guttering while Ernie dances through the puddles.

However, the show’s plot follows the same lines as the original 1952 film as the cinema world is being transformed from the silent era to the talkies, the action being set in 1927 in the fictitious Hollywood studio of Monumental Pictures.

With Lockwood (Leece) and Lamont (Binns) worried that their careers are about to fall apart with the arrival in town of ‘The Jazz Singer’ (the world’s first talking motion picture), their dated ‘Duelling Cavalier’ silent offering is a flop.

However when studio owner RF Simpson (Maxwell Caulfield), Cosmo Brown (Stephane Anelli) and movie director Roscoe Dexter (Paul Grunert) hatch a plan to keep the fans happy and the money rolling in, what was an initially flop becomes a musical phenomenon.

Singin’ in the Rain actually follows the same idea as that of Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard which starred Gloria Swanson. It’s set in the same era with silent movie star Norma Desmond trying to make the change from just using facial expressions to actually speaking.

Binns, who is known to millions as Molly Dobbs in ITV’s Coronation Street, is a real tonic. She’s funny, witty and plays the part of Lina Lamont to perfection. Her ridiculous squeaky voice really makes you cringe and surely it must give her a sore throat, especially on days when she has to give two performances!

There is naturally a love interest in the shape of Kathy Seldon, brilliantly portrayed by Amy Ellen Richardson. She has a wonderful voice and plays an out of work actress who meets Lockwood by chance.

The fact that everyone thinks Lockwood and Lamont are a real loving couple is a shame as he’s really crazy about Seldon and that makes Lamont really jealous. However he sees to it that Seldon is employed by the film studio to do the voice-overs for the dizzy blonde and that unsurprisingly makes the musical film a success.

Leece plays the silent movie star with real feeling and he excels as Don Lockwood. He has a great voice and can certainly dance along with the best of them, having actually trained at the Royal Ballet School.

Caufield, once a television regular in both Casualty and Holby City, also shines as the studio boss. But for me it was Stephane Anelli who really stole the show with his comic timing as Lockwood’s long time sidekick Cosmo Brown. The part was clearly made for him and his ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ routine is a real show stopped.

The use of a large cinema screen to show how the new film is progressing all adds to the 1920s theme – it’s naturally filmed in black and white – while it also helps increase the comedy aspect, especially when Lamont is shown speaking totally out of sync!

There is a really talented ensemble, the dance numbers brilliantly performed and choreographed while the live ten-piece orchestra under the direction of John Donovan is half hidden above the stage and they never miss a beat.

Clearly no expense has been spared on the 1920s-style costumes and the amazing set, complete with its series of water sprinklers which creates the brilliant rain effect. In fact around 10 tonnes of water and a half mile of piping ensures that it all goes swimmingly!

With Leece performing the show’s signature tune at the end of the first act and with the whole stage flooded, he brings gasps of delight and a round of applause as he constantly kicks standing water over the first three rows of the theatre’s packed audience.

Featuring songs written by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, including: You are my Lucky Star, Good Morning, Moses Supposes and, of course, Singin’ in the Rain, all are performed with polish befitting a show of this calibre.

Director Jonathan Church and the whole cast should be congratulated and they certainly deserved their standing ovation. It’s also no wonder that Singin’ in the Rain picked up four Olivier Award nominations for its choreography by Andrew Wright, lighting by Tim Mitchell, sound courtesy of Matt McKenzie and fabulous overall production by Simon Higlett. It’s brilliant!

But if you do find yourself seated in the first three rows of the stalls ahead of the spectacular finale, then you’re sure to get a second soaking as the whole company arrives on stage to dance in the rain with their silver umbrellas. Just remember, you have been warned!

Singin’ in the Rain runs for 2 hours 15 minutes (plus a 20 minute intermission) and plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday, July 12 with matinees on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Tickets are priced between £15 and £49.50 (a £2.85 booking fee applies) and they are available from the theatre box office on 08448 717652 or on-line at www.atgtickets.com/miltonkeynes