Singin’ In The Rain, Salisbury Playhouse

revssingingMatthew Croke in Singin' in the Rain at Salisbury Playhouse - Credit Richard DavenportTHIS show is certainly proving popular at the moment, as it was only last year that I reviewed the Chichester Festival production on tour at Bristol. Since making its way from screen to stage, it has always included many gallons of water, beneath which Don Lockwood sings and dances, and this show goes even further as it ventures into one of my favourite theatre styles – that of the actor-musician, where the triple threat of singing, acting and dancing is just not enough – you need at least a fourth to get into such shows – you have to be able to play an instrument, and ideally more than one.

The genre has developed over the past thirty years, since Bob Carlton’s Return to the Forbidden Planet took over the Cambridge Theatre in late 80s London after its beginnings at the tiny London Bubble, through John Doyle’s residencies at York Theatre Royal and Newbury’s Watermill in the 90s followed by Craig Revel Horwood (yes, that one!) and others, most recently with tours of Fiddler on the Roof and Calamity Jane, and of course Salisbury’s memorable Guys and Dolls. One of John Doyle’s muses, Jeremy Harrison, now lectures in actor-musicianship at Rose Bruford, has literally written the book on it, available from all good booksellers, and many of his alumni are now forming the second generation of professional actor-musicians, with two of them in this very production, taking the form from novelty to normality: whilst the onstage trumpets and guitars in Return to the Forbidden Planet were a bit of a gimmick, we now readily accept that a character may just happen to have a violin under their chin, a clarinet under their arm or a double bass strapped to them, ready for musical action.

Singin' in the Rain at Salisbury Playhouse - Credit Richard Davenport (3)Matthew Croke plays silent movie matinee idol Don Lockwood, and he is every inch the song and dance man in this production, hoofing it to bits and splashing the front rows of the audience in the title song, with a delightful, lyrical voice.  Sarah Vezmar is his co-star Lina Lamont – a cleverly timed comic performance, a mean bit of drumming, and a beautifully badly sung song, as the blonde with the squawky voice who regularly asks if she is dumb. Christian Edwards is Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown, and he is the perfect onstage comic and dancer, bringing the house down on Make ’em Laugh, as well as a great trombonist. Eleanor Brown plays Kathy Selden, the shy chorus girl whose wonderful singing voice is suddenly in demand as the age of the Talkies begins, and Lina’s voice is left somewhat wanting.  It is still a wonder that many such ghost vocalists went uncredited until just a few years ago, thirty years after such stars as Marnie Nixon sang in place of Hepburn, Kerr, Wood et al. As Cathy, Brown’s voice is so pure, so accurate, so angelic in quality that it makes perfect sense that the producer, the star, and his best friend, all want to use it in the film, and give it all the credit it deserves. I for one will be looking out for Eleanor’s name in future productions and hope she is soon recognised in real life in the same way that as her character is at the end of the show.

Every other acting, singing, dancing and musical part in the show is played by Sally Cheng, Richard Colvin, Matthew James Hinchliffe, Barbara Hockaday, Wendy Paver, Helen Power, Philip Starnier, and Richard Reeday, who not only leads from piano but also arranged the music for the cast – mainly for 10 of them, but sometimes all 12 are playing, and as I said about last year’s conventional production of this show, the band could easily tour on their own, so delicate and exquisite were the arrangements, performances, and sound mixing. The same can be said of the singing, which at times was reminiscent of a huge soaring Hollywood choir, with all 12 voices coming together in perfect harmony.

The show is cleverly designed by Ciaran Bagnall, with plenty of surfaces for acting, singing and dancing, as well as good space upstage on either side for band members to base themselves, and cleverly directed by Elizabeth Newman, with the performers barely having time to grab their instruments between finishing one scene and preparing to accompany the next.

The show is at Salisbury until 28 May before travelling to co-producing houses the Octagon Theatre in Bolton and the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme. I hope it goes further, but make sure you catch it before it goes anywhere.  If anyone is looking for me on any spare evening for the next four weeks, you may very well find me at Salisbury Playhouse, because this is one of those shows that I could happily watch again and again.


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