Londonist learnt a couple of things at last night's performance of Singin' In The Rain at the New Wimbledon Theatre.
And, we're sad to say, we were reminded of some things we already knew.
We never knew Singin' in the Rain was a forerunner of the now ubiquitous jukebox musical: Arthur Freed asked writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green to dream up a new musical based around his old songs. (So that's why the plot's so ropey!) We didn't know the role of Don Lockwood (created by a dreamy Gene Kelly in the film) is called "the song and dance man's Hamlet." Big stuff, then, for musical fans. We also never knew both the film and the later London stage version opened to poor reviews. But we're beginning to understand why.
Sadly, we already know the perils of transposing hugely successful films, no matter how suitable, (and despite the rumours about a musical Ghost, and a musical Heathers), to the stage. Although the punters love 'em. (Dirty Dancing, we're looking at you.)
If you don't know, or you've only seen that advert, Singin' In The Rain is a satire on the early days of talking pictures in Hollywood.
Don Lockwood (played here by a disconcerting Peter Jones lookalike, Tim Flavin) and dippy co-star Lina Lamont (Amy Griffiths) are huge silent movie stars. The arrival of the talkies both threatens their star status, and gives Don and his new-found love Kathy Selden (Jessica Punch) the chance to shine.
But the plot's hardly important. It's the songs, the iconic dancing, and the overriding sense of fun that makes Singin' In The Rain one of the greatest musical films ever made.
Transposed onto the New Wimbledon Theatre stage last night, Singin' In The Rain seemed to be missing a huge slice of that intrinsic fun. Despite a great performance from a wonderfully smiley Jessica Punch as Kathy, much of the show felt flat. "Make 'em Laugh" is one of the memorable songs from the film. "Bore 'em with Overlong Set Changes and Too Much Projected Film" isn't.
And what about that "song and dance man's Hamlet", Don Lockwood. Of course, we can't all be Gene Kelly (sigh!), but the success of a Singin' In The Rain production will always rest on that role. Sadly Tim Flavin's dancing failed to convince us that he was the happiest man in the world. There was none of the leaping reach, the stretching physicality of a man who is simply unable to stop dancing because he's so overjoyed to be alive. Somehow, Flavin's too straight, too closed, too quiet, and too cold to win our hearts as the leading man.
Too quiet and too cold: like the New Wimbledon Theatre itself. They need to sort out their aircon, and turn up the mics on the soloists. Last night we were among the youngest people in the audience: many looked like they were old when the original film was released in 1952. If not for us, NWT could turn up the volume and the heat for them.
Our advice, if you weren't sure: stay at home and watch the film.