Jonathan Church’s amazing programming of Chichester Festival Theatre and the adjoining Minerva is one of the wonders of British theatre, combining modern classics by Stoppard and Churchill (both of them transferring to the West End) with new plays by David Hare and Nicholas Wright ahead. The season will round off with a brand new production of Sondheim’s masterpiece Sweeney Todd with Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball, so next to all this weighty fare, who can begrudge the theatre’s summer crowd-pleaser being a damp but dazzling Singin’ in the Rain?
Screen to stage musicals have, across the last two or three decades, become a standard template, but this is a throwback in more ways than one, and can’t try to shake off its origins in the movies, either, since its entire story revolves around them as it deals with the transition between silent movies and the advent of the talkies. It also famously saw the West End beat Broadway to bring it to the stage of the London Palladium in 1983.
But if the original film remains unassailable, this production makes a splash in every sense and not just in the Act I finale, acquiring some heart and soul to match the spectacle. That triumph is equal parts casting and choreography. Blissfully recreating the sublime screen partnering of Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, classically trained ballet star Adam Cooper and the wittily elastic Daniel Crossley are perfection as silent movie star Don Lockwood and his buddy sidekick Cosmo, while Scarlett Strallen is sheer enchantment and Katherine Kingsley intentionally excruciating as the budding actress and the established star she has to vocally cover respectively.
But it is Andrew Wright’s choreography that is the biggest star of all, lending a perfect period sensibility to some niftily inventive and spectacular set pieces. The second act Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance ballet rivals Slaughter on Tenth Avenue from On Your Toes for narrative force, and nearly eclipses the famous title song in the utter joy it provides.