When Gene Kelly danced down a street in the pouring rain singing his heart out, no one could have foreseen what an iconic moment in musical history that would become. That was back in 1952 when MGM musical Singin’ in the Rain first adorned the silver screen, now, 64 years on it is still wowing audiences but thankfully not through a bad remake of the movie but numerous stage productions up and down the country.
The Bolton Octagon is home to one of the latest ones, running there until June 25th, co-produced with the New Vic Theatre and the Salisbury Playhouse. Whereas past productions of the musical have stuck to a traditional proscenium arch setting the intimate Octagon offers this in a thrust setting which brings with it freshness but also a challenge for director Elizabeth Newman to stage the big numbers without it looking too cramped.
She pulls it off with style, just as she has triumphed with previous shows such as Love Story and The Family Way. The audience enjoy the fact they are closer to the action plus there’s more of a chance for them to cool down from the hot summers’ evening as bright yellow ponchos placed on the front row signal that somewhere along the line, people are about to get very wet!
Easy on the eye Matthew Croke is perfectly cast as debonair matinee idol Don Lockwood, oozing with charm and a twinkle in his eye. Croke gives his all to the role, pulling off Gene Kelly’s moves with ease and showing off some impressive tap moves and somersaults without even breaking sweat. His vocals are equally on form as he beautifully serenades his way through You Stepped out of a Dream and You Were Meant for Me.
Eleanor Brown is a joy to watch as the object of his affection Kathy Seldon. Brown looks like she is genuinely having the time of her life in the role. Her sweet voice perfectly suits the innocence nature of Kathy and her onstage chemistry with Croke is totally convincing.
Christian Edwards provides plenty of laughs as Don’s zany sidekick Cosmo Browm, pulling off a breathtaking and energetic Make Em’ Laugh which has you exhausted just watching him. Sarah Vezmar also lays on the comedy as Lina Lamont, squawking to perfection as the silent movie star who struggles when the movies turn into talkies.
The 12 strong cast should all be commended for their part in making this show a success, they give a hundred percent, juggling acting, singing, dancing along with play an array of musical instruments throughout.
Of course the moment everyone is waiting for is the performance of the title song, and it doesn’t disappoint. Croke sloshes and stamps his way through the downpour as Don, trying his best soak the first few rows and delighting in the audience reaction. Whilst it’s a real spectacle the only negative is that the drenching detracts the focus from Croke’s dance moves, which in such a confined space still manages to be nothing short of fabulous.
Elsewhere designer Ciaran Bagnall captures the essence of the silent movie era with a stylish 1920s art deco set, dressed minimal in black and silver. The show piece being a cubed screen hanging from the ceiling on which some of the silent movie scenes are projected.
All in all Singin in the Rain is real treat that left with me and the rest of the packed out audience with ‘a glorious feelin’.
Runs at the Bolton Octagon till 25th June.