Sadler’s Wells, London EC1
Opened 3 August, 2004

Sacrilege! There’s no lamp-post and no policeman in the title number’s dance routine! Honestly, is nothing sacred?  The serious point is that any stage version of this 1952 musical has an enormous job to emerge from the shadow of Gene Kelly, both as lead performer and co-director/choreographer.  Casting Adam Cooper – former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet – shows the challenge is being taken seriously.

Cooper has the same kind of fluid grace that Kelly possessed, and pulls off the extended “Broadway Melody” fantasy sequence with a flair that almost makes you forget how gratuitous it is.  He’s not a terrific actor or singer, though he generally gets the job done.  But his personable looks and excellent dancing aren’t enough to sustain a production that seems in too many ways to rely on enthusiasm over precision.

Director Paul Kerryson loves putting oomph into musicals, but he can ignore little details in a way that lets them mount up until they threaten the whole.  Problems here include a misbehaving set, with rain that starts too early and needs furtive mopping-up, then interferes with Cooper’s microphone.  That’s especially ironic, coming mere minutes after a whole routine about problems miking up the early talkies.

Kerryson is brimming with ideas about staging such a classic movie; he uses a number of film clips (albeit with an anachronistic “video” look to them) to illustrate this tale of ’20s Hollywood.  However, he doesn’t take into account the effect this has on the pace of the evening. Many minor scene changes could just have been junked to save time.  As it is, the first half alone lasts almost as long as the entire movie.

Much of the comedy is also overplayed, especially by Simon Coulthard as chirpy sidekick Cosmo (alias Donald O’Connor).  Even the talented Ronni Ancona, as squawky-voiced diva Lina Lamont, seems in her big number to have had all her native comic flair directed out of her.  In the end, the production – which goes on to Leicester next month for the long-awaited reopening of the Haymarket Theatre there – just tries too hard.

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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