The action takes place on a stage in a film studio, an appropriate setting for a musical about Hollywood’s sometimes painful transition from silent to talking pictures. The walls are brick, covered with metallic paint, as though we are in a factory glossed with a patina of glamour, which is, I suppose, the reality of the film industry. At the back of the set the is a wide archway. It looks like a proscenium arch; we are watching a story about storytelling. The top left of the arch is decorated with elaborate French Baroque style flourishes, the right side with geometric patterns. A metaphor, perhaps, for the conflict between the old and the new. It’s good to have a thoughtful set that interacts so well with ideas in the drama.
The cast explodes onto the stage during the overture bringing with them, as they dance, the paraphernalia of film making. One of the brilliant features of this show is the young and vibrant ensemble. In addition to filling the stage with energy during one big production number after another, they also provide continuity and momentum by dancing though all the transitions between scenes and supporting the main character during many of the musical numbers that are traditionally solos. This helps create complex and hilarious sight gags, as for example in Make ’em Laugh.
You’ll notice I’ve used the word dance a few times so far. This is first and foremost a dance musical and the dancing is epic. Not just in terms of the number of dancers involved, but in terms of broad, expansive shapes, big lifts, and lots of travel that really makes the most of the space. Big iconic numbers, like the utterly brilliant Good Morning, combine detail and sweep. There is more tap than you can shake a stick at, and it’s all so polished.
The principals are uniformly strong. Ross McLaren’s Cosmo Brown never lets up on the laughs but keeps the ham out by never overdoing it. Jenny Gayner as comic villain Lina Lamont has enormous fun torturing the English Language to death; I’ve never heard so many syllables crammed into the word ‘flirting’. Sam Lips and Charlotte Gooch as romantic leads Don Lockwood and Kathy Selden are charming, charismatic and have great chemistry together.
But, in truth, this is an ensemble show that values and shines a light at everyone on the stage. The warmth of this warms the audience and the inclusiveness draws us in.
Don Lockwood – Sam Lips
Kathy Selden – Charlotte Gooch
Cosmo Brown – Ross LcLaren
Lina Lamont – Janny Gayner
Zelder Zanders – Imogen Brooke
Dialect Coach – Alastair Crosswell
Production Tenor – Alex Given
Policeman – Robin Kent
Roscoe Dexter – Michael Matus
Rod – Peter Nash
RF Simpson – Dale Rapley
Broadway Melody Girl – Harriet Samuel-Gray
Sid – Ben Whitnall
Director – Jonathan Church
Choreographer – Andrew Wright
Set & Costume Designer – Simon Higlett
Sound Designer – Gareth Owen
Lighting Designer – Tim Mitchell
Musical Director – Grant Walsh