Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Singin' In The Rain Tim Flavin Jessica Punch Tour Review

Congress Theatre Eastbourne

Singin' In The Rain
11th-15thAugust 2009

Singin In The Rain with Tim Flavin and Jessica Punch
Performance seen - 12th August


Don Lockwood - Tim Flavin
Kathy Selden - Jessica Punch
Cosmo Brown - Graeme Henderson
Lina Lamont - Amy Griffiths
Rosco Dexter - Kit Benjamin
R F Simpson - Robert Traynor
Dora Bailey - Vivienne McMaster
Zelda Zanders - Rebecca Marks
Miss Dinsmore - Helen Evans

Doing independent reviews just for pleasure does give you that opportunity to see what the official reviewers in the press say and even what previous theatre goers have thought about a show.

But what a mixed bag of comments this show has picked up not just during the rest of the national tour but here in Eastbourne.

The West Sussex Gazette raves about it saying "it's a show you'll want to see again and again". On the other hand Eastbourne Today says " a show about the magic of the movies would do well to have a little of that magic itself"

Theatre goers on blogs and forums differ widely in opinion too. Many are quite vicious in their comments about the set and the performers. They are matched by those who say that it is excellent and that the vocal performances are superb.

So what do I think?

Let's get the set out of the way first as on many a review and comment it has been described as poor and bland.

I think these critisisms are fair overall. For a nationally touring production the set does look extremely barren, tired and somewhat battered. On one part of the set it looked as if a "patch" had been applied to a damaged piece and that this had then been painted over.

Whilst nobody can expect the whole of Hollywood to be recreated inside a theatre I can think of much lower budget productions that have done a far better job in creating a suitably impressive set (The Rattonians set for The Producers being a good example).

So on the set front the verdict is certainly that more could have been done to liven the background.

The show itself?

I think these mixed reviews have mainly stemmed from impressions gained in the first half of the first act.

Act 1 is broken down into 14 scenes.

The first 7 or 8 are really tedious. There is nothing whatsoever wrong with the vocal performances when the songs break the story but in these initial story-building-scenes are extremely hard going.

Fair enough that is only just over a half of Act 1 with Act 2 still to come but it's hard to salvage a show that starts so slowly.

I guess it's difficult when you are transferring such a classic movie to the stage (such as this Gene Kelly classic) to do it justice and to hold the theatre goer's attention for the full length of the show.

But the aim of the scriptwriter and production team has to be to achieve this but in this show it fails. Perhaps that is why Singin' In The Rain in the many different productions over the years has continued to get such varied reviews?

As these first scenes passed I found the mind wandering from the "action" only to be awakened each time a song broke in. I'd then endure the rather boring dialogue eagerly anticipating the next musical interlude.

This boredom continued until around the 7th scene when Cosmo, played by the extremely talented Graeme Henderson sings "Make 'Em Laugh" perfectly whilst performing a "comic" scene that is more like "Make 'Em Cringe". It's not his fault, he's a very accomplished actor and singer and he's also very funny as his other scenes prove. But he has to work with the script and props as provided and quite frankly for these opening scenes that material is not strong or good enough.

I don't think I was alone in my thoughts as up to this point audience reaction to scenes could be described as "polite" rather than "raving".

Thank goodness then that after the audience has endured this rather monotonous background building up of the storyline the show really turns itself around.

The scene is now finally set Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are stars of the silent movie era. But now to compete with their competitors they have to enter the world of "talkies". The problem is Lina Lamont talks like Joe Pasquale and sings like Kate Bush on helium. This does not bode well for the future of Lockwood and Lamont so the lovely Kathy Seldon (Jessica Punch)comes along to save the day by speaking all Lamont's dialogue and singing all the words to her songs. This is unbeknown to Lina Lamont because to avoid offending her the production's director decides he will leave her under the impression that her recorded screeching will be used in the final cut.

This opens the way to a far funnier, more interesting, glad-you-came, part of the show where a better script, great comedy, good choreography and great singing are at last allowed to be combined.

It is good that this turnaround in fortunes comes long enough before the interval as I wonder how many of the audience may not have returned for the second half otherwise?

It is fitting that American actor, the Laurence Olivier award winner, Tim Flavin finishes the first half with his impressive rendition of "Singin' In The Rain". The super vocal performance together with the terrific deluge of "rain" falling onto the stage does leave you with the impression that more good stuff is to come in the second half.

And come it does. The second half is a thoroughly entertaining affair and the vocal performances are amazing. Amy Griffiths squealing as Lina Lamont is hilarious. As for Jessica Punch we have now seen her in many productions in Eastbourne (most recently in Fiddler On The Roof) and she never fails to impress her vocal talent is outstanding - she probably also has one of the most recognizable smiles on the stage! Tim Flavin does Gene Kelly proud and Graeme Henderson as Cosmo Brown is extremely funny with superb facial expression.

The rest of the cast and ensemble are equally entertaining although I had to wonder with the girls in the singing/dancing ensemble if the orange fake-tan-look was really the in thing in the early 50's? I wasn't born then so I wouldn't know but there did seem to be a little too much orange. Clad in their colourful raincoats in the second act they reminded me of little "Oompa-Loompas" from Charlie and the Chocolate factory.

So don't be put off seeing this musical from the reviews as certainly from the performance we saw the end result was very pleasing and the audience did give the performers a very good reaction at the end.

Go and see it in the knowledge that it's a bit slow going to start off with but soon picks up in quaility and you will not come away disappointed.
4 out of 5 for Singin' In The Rain with Tim Flavin and Jessica Punch Print This Entry

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