Sunday, 7 November 2010

Singin' In The Rain, John Wilson & Philharmonia

I was at the Festival Hall this afternoon for another MGM score reconstruction from John Wilson. This time he had the Philharmonia Orchestra & Voices in tow to perform the much loved Singin' In The Rain with a cast of top-notch principals.
This rather blurry image serves to illustrate little more than my first observation, that the stage was packed to bursting, with added woodwind and brass, on top of the rhythm trappings of a big band score - a guitar, kit drum and piano. The performance was staged concert and so a strip of the available room was given over to the principals, who recreated the film by reading from a script prepared by director-narrator Kim Criswell.

The principal appeal of the event was the opportunity of hearing the music played live. This was an unequivocal success, the Philharmonia bringing a stock-in-trade virtuosic ensemble to the music. Though some moments lacked the froth and excess that seems characteristic of the film, the score was presented with great beauty and a stirring, authentic romance. The additional brass really came into their own in the swagger and drive of dance numbers and interludes. The programmatic Broadway Ballet that accompanies the solipsistic dance interlude of the film was a particularly well-rendered suite.

Of course, it would be too difficult to recreate the action exactly as in the film on stage (rain?!), just as it would be impossible for the principals to 'be' Gene Kelly or Debbie Reynolds (or Donald O'Connor). Consequently, the drama was played out with a mixture of reproduction, re-appropriation or, occasionally, allowing the music to take over.

Josh Prince's Cosmo lead the way in this respect with an economical version of the Make 'Em Laugh slapstick routine, which also made use of a game Wilson (not for the first time in the afternoon ahead). His tap dancing in Moses Supposes was also impressive, but he was chiefly an asset for his sure comic timing.

This really allowed Julian Ovenden, as Don, and Annalene Beechey, playing Kathy, to free themselves of the comic burden of the drama, and play - and sing - the romance. There's great ardour in the music, enough to prevent the caramelising of the melody in the theatrical coulis, and it had first class advocates in these two young performers.

Ovenden is not only strikingly handsome, his easy charm simply flows off the front of the stage (and he's likely to become even more widely known because of an upcoming film). The spirit of Gene Kelly was alive and well in him, although he chose not to dance during the Puddle de deux of the title song (the only questionable decision of the evening: a tribute to the indelible magic of the screen routine? The music cried out for a theatrical counterpart). Beechey's Kathy was a pitch-perfect foil for Ovenden's Don and commanded, arguably, the loveliest voice. Their falling in love at the end of the first half was entirely convincing, and even better than the experience of the film for not having its visual paraphernalia.

The slack of an orbiting company of smaller roles and extras was taken up by the uncredited big band frontman Matthew Ford and individuals popping out of the all-singing, some-dancing chorus to swing a racket or take a twirl in the 'rain'. Everyone on stage got involved in the splashes of hubbub as the history of the motion picture (literally) flashed in front of our eyes. This was a most lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon and made me wish that the rush of seasonal panto just around the corner might be so meticulously prepared and so ardently performed.

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