Feelgood Fun: Singin’ in the Rain and International Happiness Day

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Today (20th March) has apparently been declared International Happiness Day. With its boundless energy, classic songs and infectious feelgood vibe, what better way to celebrate the happy occasion than with Gene Kelly’s and Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain?

Regularly featured on lists of the greatest movies and musicals of all time, and with a rare 100% positive critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Singin’ in the Rain has become something of a cultural icon, firmly embedded in our collective consciousness. It tells the story of the first ever screen musical, created by the fictional Monumental Pictures in the 1920s to compete with the new “talkies” being made by rival companies, such as (the non-fictional) Warner Bros’ The Jazz Singer. The transition from silent to speaking films proves fraught for the studios, however: while protagonist Don Lockwood, his girlfriend Kathy Selden and their best friend Cosmo Brown  all readily adapt to the changes, Monumental’s leading lady, Lina Lamont, doesn’t quite have a voice to suit her characters…

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Somewhat unusually for a major musical like this, Singin’ in the Rain has been adapted from film to stage, rather than the other way around. Given the film clips and various special effects (from artificial rain to neon lights on Broadway) required to make the show work, bringing the story to live audiences is an incredibly ambitious undertaking, making Jonathan Church’s fantastic production for The Chichester Festival Theatre all the more impressive. Without losing any of the original movie’s wit, charm or sense of fun (though not without adding some special stage spectacle of his own), Church has successfully translated a film about the film industry into a live theatre piece, and to massive critical acclaim, in a production that would doubtless meet even Kathy Selden’s exacting standards.

Right from the beginning, Simon Higlett’s design work transports viewers instantly to the play’s late 20s setting, with lavish sets and beautiful, colourful costumes. Still more striking is Andrew Wright’s choreography, which the actors navigate with a seemingly boundless energy that’s liable to leave even audience members feeling exhausted!

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James Leece makes for a convincing Don Lockwood, barely pausing for breath between elaborate dance sequences. Faye Tozer is spot on as the manipulative and demanding diva Lina, having here been granted her own dressing room solo which she hilariously squawks her way through. Studio boss R. F. Simpson and frustrated director Roscoe Dexter are also captured brilliantly by Maxwell Caulfield and Paul Grunert. Though quite different to her wide-eyed, youthful and headstrong movie counterpart (Debbie Reynolds was just 19 when she took on the role) Amy Ellen Richardson sings beautifully as Kathy, her final solo number that exposes Lina’s mischief having been switched from a lively rendition of the title track to the much more mellow and romantic “Would You?”. The real star of the show, though, is Stephane Anelli as the eccentric actor/writer/comedian/musician/composer Cosmo Brown, whose genius in getting them all out of sticky situations is far too often overlooked by his friends. Anelli finds the perfect blend of slapstick and silly jokes, all delivered with faultless timing in a performance that rivals Donald O’Connor’s own.

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Highlights of the show naturally included all the big song and dance numbers: “Moses Supposes”, “Good Morning” and of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” itself, which gave viewers in the front couple of rows a chance to experience the rain directly as Leece gleefully splashed across the flooded stage, deliberately kicking water in their direction. Unsurprisingly, plenty of audience members simply couldn’t resist singin’ and dancin’ along themselves, both during this first rendition and at the end of the show, when the whole cast came together to repeat the song, complete with plenty more water a set of gorgeous umbrellas – silver on the outside and brightly coloured underneath (they really ought to be being sold somewhere…). The “Gotta Dance” section also worked remarkably well. This being the most dreamlike and experimental part of the film, I initially had some reservations as to how well it could be done on stage. These were quickly dispelled, however: Jenny Legg was stunning as the mysterious, seductive dancer the hero encounters on Broadway (played by Cyd Charisse on screen), while Amy Richardson was beautiful and semi-angelic in her flowing, shimmering dress.

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As enjoyable as it is in its own right, one of the best things about seeing the stage musical last night was the fact that it served as a welcome reminder of just how much I love the film. It’s one of my all-time favourites, and after listening to the soundtrack for most of the morning, I’m now just about ready to wind down for the night by rewatching the film, again….

Happy Happiness Day everyone!

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Making a Storm this Spring – Singin’ in the Rain & Happy Days

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Full of Spring cheer and energy, two massive musical shows guaranteed to brighten up the rainy days will be bounding over to the Birmingham Hippodrome in March and April.

James Leece as Don, Amy Ellen Richardson as Kathy & Stephane Anelli as Cosmo in Singin' in the Rain - Photo credit Hugo GlendinningFirst up, on Tuesday 18th March, Chichester Festival Theatre’s acclaimed production of Singin’ in the Rain will make its down from the West End’s iconic Palace Theatre. So far, the show has received four Olivier Award nominations, and has played to over 750,000 people. Due to massive demand, an extra matinee performance has already been added to the Hippodrome run at 2pm on Friday 21 March.

The production, which features, “half a mile of flexible pipe work, and a 10 tonne water tank and a water system that creates a downpour from above and flooding from below the stage,” and uses over 12,000 litres of water per performance, is directed by Jonathan Church, who served as artistic director of the Birmingham REP from 2001-06. Starring in the show will be James Leece and Amy Ellen Richardson as lovers Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden, Stephane Anelli as sidekick Cosmo Brown, Steps singer Faye Tozer as demanding starlet Lina Lamont, and international stage and screen star Maxwell Caulfield as studio boss R. F. Simpson.

Said Rob McPherson, the Hippodrome’s Director of Marketing and Development:

Singin’ in the Rain is one of musical theatre’s classic masterpieces and it’s great to see that the show is as popular now as it ever has been. Due to a downpour of public demand we are pleased to announce an extra matinee performance in order to allow as many sitr tour-334 DG editpeople of Birmingham the chance to dig out their umbrellas and join us in the days of Hollywood gone by – we are looking forward to seeing those who will be braving the ‘splash zone’ in the front few rows…”

To get some exclusive behind the scenes insights from star of the show Max Caulfield, check out the latest Hippodrome podcast here. Plus, for a chance to win some extra special Singin’ in the Rain goodies, follow @brumhippodrome on Twitter and send us a picture of yourself singing in the rain. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #BHSingin!

Singin’ in the Rain is showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 18th March until Saturday 5th April. Tickets are priced from £16-45 with some £5 First Night seats available for those aged 16-23. You can book via the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or by calling 0844 338 5000. If you’re using the First Night scheme, don’t forget to tell us what you think here.

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Following this, a brand new musical based on the classic TV series Happy Days will be making its UK premiere at the theatre, featuring all the original characters as they battle to save their diner Arnold’s from demolition.

(L-R) Cheryl Baker as Mrs Cunningham, Ben Freeman as The Fonz, Heidi Range as Pinky Tuscadero in Happy Days - A New Musical (Photo Paul Coltas)Happy Days – A New Musical is written by Garry Marshall, creator of the original show and director of many hit feature films including Beaches, Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. In addition to the Happy Days theme  tune, it will feature 21 brand new songs by Bugsy Malone composer and Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe award-winning songwriter Paul Williams.

Starring in the show will be Emmerdale’s Ben Freeman as The Fonz, Sugababes singer Heidi Range as Pinky Tuscadero and Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker as Mrs Cunningham. Choreography is by Andrew Wright, who also choreographed the current tour of Singin’ in the Rain, while original “Fonz” Henry Winkler will act as Creative Consultant. Amy Anzel, who featured in recent Channel 4 documentary The Sound of Musicals, is producing.

Happy Days – A New Musical will be showing at the Birmingham Hippodrome from Tuesday 22nd until Saturday 26th April. Tickets are priced from £15-37 and can be booked from the Birmingham Hippodrome website, or by calling 0844 338 5000. If you are aged 16-25 and are purchasing £5 First Night tickets, please give us your thoughts here.