I have seen two productions of stage versions of this classic MGM musical. Both left me wondering even more than usual about why one needs to see a stage version of a great film. Unlike many classic musicals, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN isn't a tribute to the stage, presenting its musical numbers as if they were in a theater. It is a movie about movies and these works cannot be translated to the stage. Moreover, like many classic film musicals, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is great because of its performances which cannot be duplicated on stage or on screen (who could be as good as Gene Kelly or Donald O'Connor today and in the age of hyper editing they would be ruined anyway by a director terrified of losing his audience's attention). So who needs SINGIN' IN THE RAIN live? Conductor- arranger John Wilson, for one. Wilson is fanatic about MGM musicals and is intent on recreating the lost orchestrations of these films. He loves the sound of the MGM studio orchestra, a hybrid of symphony and dance band and has recreated the sound with his own orchestra. His BBC Proms concerts are among the first to sell out every year. Wilson is a combination of musical nerd and matinee idol. He certainly is the most handsome conductor around these days. One of Wilson's pet projects has been the reconstruction of the score to SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. So what he brought to the Royal Festival Hall last Sunday was a semi-staged version of the MGM classic. The star was the orchestra. The sound was thrilling enough to justify the project. Wilson adores this music and his love radiates through the experience. He also played some of the smaller roles including the voice coach.
The rest of the cast was fine. Kim Criswell adapted (she could have pruned it a bit more) the dialogue and played the shrill Lena Lamont. Julian Ovendon and Annalene Beechey sang beautifully and looked handsome (she had some beautiful costumes). And Josh Prince literally threw himself into the Donald O'Connor role. Nonetheless, Wilson and the orchestra (the Philharmonia augmented with some of Wilson's usual musicians) stole the show. We didn't need Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse to appreciate the ballet music when it sounded that good.
All 2900 seats were filled and the audience went wild.