Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Singin In The Rain - Sunderland Empire Theatre

Actors are famously superstitious when performing a certain Shakespeare play, but I wonder if they are also superstitious when performing Singin’ In The Rain. At least the putting up of more than a dozen umbrellas indoors did not bring any bad luck on opening night at the Empire.
Set in 1927, it tells the story of Hollywood’s golden couple, silent movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont. However, when the talking-picture is invented, their studio company, Monumental, decides they must follow in the footsteps of The Jazz Singer, and make a movie with talking and sound. However, Monumental has a slight problem in that Lina, for all her artificial beauty, has a voice that would make Van Gogh cut off his other ear.
Thankfully, they are able to get around the problem by having young actress Kathy Selden, who has the voice of an angel, and the heart of Don Lockwood, performing Lina’s lines in the movie, both speaking and singing. Matters are complicated when Lina, who wants Don for herself, learns of the love between her two co-stars.
There was water falling in the theatre long before the titular song at the end of Act One: the scene in which the film company attempt to shoot their first talking-picture movie against a myriad of continuous technical problems had the audience weeping with laughter. In all the shows I have seen at the Empire (and that includes a pantomime starring Ant and Dec), that was by far and away the funniest thing I have ever seen on that stage.
The wonderful Tim Flavin made for a fine Don Lockwood: personable, witty, and delivered the intricate tap-dancing with a suave grace and athleticism. His solitary performance during “Singin’ In The Rain”, was just one of many highlights during the show; the others being the humorous “Moses Supposes”, and “Lucky Star”, the latter an ethereal performance by Jessica Punch as Kathy Selden.
Graeme Henderson as Cosmo, Lockwood’s former showbiz partner, and now musical director at Monumental, stole the show during his classic slapstick comedy routine in “Make ‘Em Laugh”. Then Amy Griffiths’ Lina Lamont stole it during the kind of intentionally dire, audially atrocious, wonderfully comic performance of “What’s Wrong With Me?” that would have had Cowell, Holden and Morgan hitting their buzzers before the end of the first line had been sung, and telling her exactly what.
When the first large screen showing Lockwood and Lamont’s latest movie appeared, it was as though we had been transported back to the days when the theatre was a cinema; and although the movie was deliberately naff and hammier than Brian Blessed in a Shakespearean comedy, it was almost startling to be reminded of the Empire’s past in a subtle, yet effective manner.

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