“Singin’ in the Rain”   19 May 2011   London Oratory School, Fulham

Thank you very much for inviting me to Wimbledon Light Opera Society’s production of the perennial favourite “Singin’ in the Rain” recently at the London Oratory School. Thanks also to Marion Barton for making the ticket arrangements.

Brief Synopsis

In 1927, the former stunt Don Lockwood becomes a successful actor with the company of his best friend Cosmo Brown, forming a romantic pair with the actress Lina Lamont. In the period of transition from silent movies to talking pictures Don accidentally meets the aspirant actress Kathy Selden while escaping from his fans and falls in love with her. Lina has trouble with the sharp tone of her voice and Cosmo and Don decide to dub her, using Kathy’s voice, to save their movie. When the jealous Lina finds out the strategy of the studio she does not want to share the credits with Kathy, and tries to force the studio to use Kathy secretly to dub her in other productions. But when Lina decides to speak and sing to the audience, the truth is revealed.

Overview for Magazine and NODA Website

This was a highly ambitious and ultimately rewarding production from WLOS. Ambitious because of its technical requirements, but a good choice of show in my opinion for the dynamics of the society. I saw the production early in its run and there were technical issues which made me think that the production was short of a couple of technical runs before being ready to be presented to the public. Having said that, the cast overcame these issues to turn in some fine performances and also included plenty of business for a large ensemble. For me the character of Cosmo stole the show against a Don Lockwood who looked ill at ease in this legendary role.

Any production of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ will always automatically be compared to the charming Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor film of 1952. Another of the ‘show within a show’ genre, the stage version sticks fairly faithfully to the screen version. The plot centres on movie star Don Lockwood and his efforts to keep his silent-screen popularity when films were just making the transition to sound. The setting is the Twenties, a time of uncertainty for many established silent movie stars. It has a succession of pleasant songs, including ‘Good Morning’, ‘Make ’em Laugh’, ‘Moses Supposes’, ‘You are my lucky Star’ and, of course, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. I can’t honestly say that ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is amongst my favourite musicals and it was an ambitious option, but I thought that WLOS pulled off a very creditable production.

The show is indeed extremely ‘bitty’ with around 21 scene changes and it takes a while to settle down as we are introduced to the characters and their various backgrounds. The company looked to be enjoying themselves and were well-rehearsed under Alex Sutton as Director, but the show sadly looked technically under rehearsed. It is a very big ask to get a production of this scale and complexity in to a theatre on a Sunday and have it looking slick in two days. The show was produced by Laura Hutchison and what a tough and thankless task this can be. At times you can feel like a ‘gofer’ – going for this and going for that and undertaking many of the unpleasant and tedious aspects of the production, but I’m sure the cast and the society appreciated Laura’s vast contribution.

Some of the high points of the production were the excellent cine films made by the cast to portray the silent films of the time, such as ‘The Duelling Cavalier’. Although there were plenty of them, they were all entertaining. An excellent performance from Cosmo in particular. The ‘rain scene’ was a fitting end to a slightly overlong first half. On the technical side, there was a nice scene with Don and Kathy as they enter an empty sound stage where with the artifice of a cyclorama and a wind machine. Don creates a sunset and a light breeze to serenade her. This worked a treat and in general, despite obvious difficulties, both lighting and sound teams ably supported the cast. The cine films worked like clockwork and there was a strong Lighting plot. Excellent costumes assisted the production, bringing colour and the required authenticity, especially relevant to the period costumes, to carry off such a show.

Jon Mizler as Musical Director looked to be having fun and was in a control of a very impressive orchestra. There were some strange notes at times in the pit but they undoubtedly enhanced the production. Jennifer Ansdell’s choreography was quirky, fresh and at all times enjoyable. Never better than during ‘All I do is Dream of You’ and ‘Moses Supposes’. A hard working troupe of dancing girls assumed the bulk of the front line work but there was plenty for the slightly less nimble.

There were some excellent performances in the WLOS principal line-up. Unfortunately, for me, Bryan O’Flynn as Don Lockwood was not among them. Bryan has good stage presence and sang pleasantly but is not a great mover and looked ill at ease in this iconic role. On the opposite extreme Dom Carter and his very expressive face and voice provided much of the comedy as Lockwood’s sidekick, Cosmo Brown: a real winner in my opinion. Our aspiring actress and dancer Kathy Selden was played suitably meekly by Emily McDonald. Emily possesses a lovely voice and proved this in ‘Would You’ as the contrast to the frightful shrill warblings of Lina Lamont. The afore-mentioned Miss Lamont was given the full works by Georgia Thomas who was careful not to tip this delightful character over the top. The stiff studio owner RF Simpson was played impressively by Nick Simpson. Anthony Trott played Roscoe Dexter with good comedy timing, a straight face and a dry wit. These actors were nicely backed by several cameos from ensemble, too many to mention individually, who all contributed to this enjoyable production.

The A4 souvenir programme had an excellent layout and there was plenty of interesting society reading to be done. Short biogs and especially photographs are always very welcome as it shows the relevant experience and growth of performers.  I liked the idea to give the cast awards and give them their own photograph in the programme – a lovely touch. There was also a nice NODA advert – I can give you some more info to add to this and also give to details of how to enter future NODA Programme and Poster competitions.

Once again thank you for inviting me to the London Oratory School and best wishes for your next production in 2012 – ’HMS Pinafore (with a twist!). I look forward to seeing you again soon and if I can be of any assistance at any time, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Kindest Regards

Stephen Macvicar

NODA Rep

London Area 3

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