Theatre in Wales

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Aberystwyth Summer Musical

Aberystwyth Arts Centre- Singing in the Rain , Aberystwyth Arts Centre , August 28, 2004
Following the footsteps of one of MGM’s most loved musical’s of all time is no easy task. Few would disagree that Singing in the Rain is one of the most iconic pieces of cinema ever made, and a mainstay of Saturday afternoon family television, making it a daunting project for any director. In the centerpiece of Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s summer season Richard Cheshire utilises what is a comparatively small cast, to convey what many other directors would require twice as many people to do. The simple but effective set remains constant throughout, doubling for many locales and it alternates between a split stage and films projected onto a backdrop to deal with the musical’s many flashback sequences.

Set in 1927, the plot concerns Hollywood’s transition from silent films to talking pictures, and follows the careers of successful silent screen stars Don Lockwood (played by Phil Barley), and Lina Lamont (Michelle Grant). On screen lovers, they’re celluloid chemistry leads to much speculation in the media which the studio makes little effort to quell. When it becomes apparent that the studio need to transfer their stars success to make a ‘talkie’ or go bust, the solution seems obvious, but there’s only one small problem – Lina Lamont’s grating Bronx accent and obnoxious, bimbo persona, at odds with her otherwise glamorous image.

Phil Barley as matinee idol Don Lockwood oozes old school charm, with just the right amount of cheese, he stops just short of being dislikeable with it, most likely because the audience is too busy blinking in the glaze of his dazzling colgate grin to hate him. Regardless of how well the performance is going, one couldn’t help dreading the moment when he took to the stage to sing the title song, umbrella in tow, and while he won’t be giving Gene Kelly a run for his money anytime soon, he did an admirable job. He does, however, make a solid romantic lead and is well-suited to the part he makes a valiant effort to make his own.

Actor Neil Smye in his role as Lockwood’s lifelong friend Cosmo, gives a fine, physically comic performance. Oddly reminiscent of Bing Crosby, he’s at his best, as is the show, in what must be the standout sequence, the number Make ‘em Laugh, in which the male half of the cast perform a well-oiled and genuinely very funny dance. It does however, serve to highlight the curious divergence in the choregraphy, which is genuinely breathtaking at times, but also sometimes lackluster, redeemed only by good dancers.

In a play full of annoying New Yoik accents, Michelle Grant as sensational flapper Lina Lamont surpasses them all. Suitably annoying, she makes the transition from sophisticated, Hollywood vamp, to scheming peroxide bimbo, without slipping too far into caricature.

The show however belongs to Sarah Boulton as the ingénue Kathy Seldon. Boulton is a joy to watch, moving seamlessly between earthy, girl next door one moment and exuberant the next. A recent graduate of Mountview Theatre School she brings the kind of breathy excitement that this classic musical requires. Adding some much needed zest to her dance sequences, she seems perfectly at ease, and not at all daunted by her role in such a beloved musical. Singing in the Rain comes from a different school of musical theatre, and while it does nothing new or innovative, the audience doesn’t want or expect it to.

Reviewed by: Melissa Dunne

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