'Singin' in the Rain'
Onstage at Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre
Photo of Sam Lips by Johan Persson
A nostalgic musical ‘rat a tat’ romp through Hollywood of yesteryear.
A visual feast for the eyes with a full-bodied orchestra sound for the ears, this ‘Singin' in the Rain’ will put a smile on all of us who have been clambering to return to live theatre.
Sure, at times, the plot might be a tad cheesy as it follows the ‘boy meets girl’ theme but it was exactly that premise that brought people to the silent movies so very long ago. It was a good choice by Mirvish to follow its hunches on this one and use ‘Singin' ’ to bring people back to the theatre.
It appeared everyone around me was having a good time. Studio moguls from years ago used to say the audiences will tell you if something is good and if they are having a good time.
This ‘Singin' in the Rain’ is good, and I had a good time.
It is Hollywoodland, 1927, and we are in the era of the end of the silent film era and the advent of the talkies. An opening night of a world premiere silent film is in full swing at Grauman’s Theatre with stars Don Lockwood (a dashingly debonair Sam Lips) and his co-star Lina Lamont (a delectably squeaky Faye Tozer). Lockwood can barely stand Lina’s presence for her haughty attitude towards others. Lina has convinced herself the on-screen romance between her and Don is also present in their real lives, much to Don’s continued disagreement on this issue. With the advent of the first talking picture ‘The Jazz Singer’, studio mogul RF Simpson (a blustery Michael Brandon), believes that Don and Lina’s next picture ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ must be converted into a talking one.
We then are on the set of the filming of ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ and witness so many problems with it most notably with Lina’s ingratiating voice that doesn’t transfer well to the screen.
Since the test screening of ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ was a massive failure, Don’s friend, Cosmo Brown (delightfully comic Alastair Croswell) believes the ‘Dueling Cavalier’s should be converted into a musical comedy film with Lina’s vocal work and dialogue being dubbed by another actress. Meanwhile, Don has fallen in love with stage actress Kathy Selden (a charming Debbie Reynolds look-a-like and vocally pretty Charlotte Gooch) and who is secretly hired to dub Lina’s vocal and dialogue work on the film.
Trouble on the set then ensues when Lina finds out what is going on.
But rest assured, all’s right in the universe and true love is restored in the end.
A gorgeous visual feast for the eyes in this production thanks to Simon Higlett’s extraordinary set and colourful costume designs. Jonathan Church’s at times ‘tongue-in-cheek’ direction appropriately reflects the 1950s era in which the story is set. Hollywood in the 1920s and the 1950s was the place where many hopefuls wanted to land in the business for their fame and fortune. Sadly, the reality is many did not make it. Many silent film actors lost their credibility when the talkies came to town. The McCarthy Era in Hollywood also destroyed the careers of so many hopefuls within the business. But underneath all of this sadness is the hopeful love story of Don and Kathy, and that’s all that matters.
The songs are tunefully exceptional, and kudos to Sound Designer Gareth Owen for the appropriate balance so I could hear the lyrics and the score. The title song is delightful, and Sam Lips gracefully channelled his inner Gene Kelly fantastically. Another of my favourites is ‘Good Morning’, and here Charlotte Gooch and Messrs. Lips and Crosswell grandly made the song work so elegantly for the three of them.
‘Make ‘Em Laugh’ wistfully reminded me of those bygone years of vaudeville that I wish I could have seen oh so many years ago.
Andrew Wright’s choreography is eye-popping. The joyfully uplifting and iconic title dance number is glorious as is the rousing ‘Good Morning’. Audience members in the first five rows wore ponchos on account they were told they would get wet after the title number. I’m sure because it was opening night that Sam Lips in the first act finale gave it his all and gave a good soaking to those in these rows.
But, be prepared for the second act finale when the entire company will sing and dance in the rain as there is a gusher of water in the audience. Great fun if you choose to sit there.
Final Comments: A nostalgic musical ‘rat a tat’ romp through Hollywood of yesteryear. To be honest, I’ve only seen segments of the film (mostly the dance numbers), but never in its entirety. A trip through any of the online streaming services is next on my list to catch it in its entirety.
A wonderful invitation to return to the theatre.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
'Singin' ' in the Rain’ runs to October 23 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, 300 King Street West, Toronto. For tickets, visit mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.