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BWW Review: SINGIN IN THE RAIN at Opéra Massy

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Chantons sous la pluie !

After several delays due to the pandemic, it was good to be back at the Massy Opéra, one of France's premiere musical theater venues now, after Cabaret and Into the Woods, this time for two performances (June 24th and 25th) of a brand-new Arts Lyrica production of Singin' in the Rain, spoken in French and sung in English.

BWW Review: SINGIN IN THE RAIN at Opéra Massy

There has already been an French-spoken version of Singin' in the Rain at the Théâtre de la Porte Saint-Martin starring Isabelle George as Kathy Selden in 2001, but the most recent and highly successful production at Châtelet (2015, revived at Le Grand Palais in 2017), directed by Robert Carsen and choreographed by Stephen Mear (and which was supposed to transfer to Broadway, but that never happened), was all in English.

BWW Review: SINGIN IN THE RAIN at Opéra Massy

The movie by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen has, together with West Side Story, has always been the most loved and well-known musical in Europe, especially France, which explains the number of productions on the continent despite the failure of the original production on Broadway in 1985. Apart from the Broadway production, which took a lot of liberties, and the first ever stage production at the London Palladium in 1983, which added many other songs, it is interesting to see how close to the movie the recent productions have been clinging. The MGM movie was a self-reflexive, satirical look at one very specific period: the transition from silent movies to talkies.

The danger of the overuse of video projections in recent modern stagings of musicals, such as West Side Story on Broadway and Man of La Mancha in Paris, is a trap this production falls into during its first half hour. With the exception of the duet "Fit as a Fiddle," now strangely always clothed in ugly clown costumes (or is this a reference to Gene Kelly's "Be a Clown" in the movie The Pirate?), all the first scenes, including the arrival at the Chinese Theater, are seen through an opaque art déco screen structure, designed by Mohamed Yamani, and the car ride when Don Lockwood meets Kathy Selden is seen on video with the actors speaking live almost off-stage!

BWW Review: SINGIN IN THE RAIN at Opéra Massy

Fortunately after this very uninvolving beginning, the show really gets going with "All I Do Is Dream of You," led by the brilliant Marina Pangos (Maeterlinck Prize-winner for her portrayal of Eliza Doolittle in Brussels in 2020) as Kathy Selden, together with a finely tuned dance ensemble, choreographed by Johan Nus, with the help of Sylvie Planche for the tap dancing. Most of the dancing happily borrows a lot of steps from the original movie's choreography, without being overly faithful, but we could have done with a little less body drumming, since we are in the 20s afterall! Some dancers are equally competent in their supporting parts, such as the promising Guillemette Buffet as Zelda, played by the legendary Rita Moreno in the movie, the funny Sandrine Mallick (when fully visible!) as Dora Bailey, and English-born Andrew Halliday as the production singer in "Beautiful Girl."

BWW Review: SINGIN IN THE RAIN at Opéra Massy

In addition to Marina, the other crown jewel of the production is Belgian-born Marie Glorieux, delivering an irresistible yet subtle portrayal of Lina Lamont. When not played one-dimensionally, this is really the most interesting and multi-layered character of the piece, who has the one and only book song "What's Wrong with Me," not from the movie. Seen at Mogador in Grease in 2012, Mickey de Marco is no Donald O'Connor as Cosmo, and, despite his spectacular voice and capable dancing and acting, seasoned musical performer Edouard Thiebaut lacks some of the Kelly-esque charisma in his portrayal of the egotistical movie star Don Lockwood, or was it just the crocodile smile missing here?

All in all, a production with great entertainment value, even if the collective efforts of Patrick Leterme, Emmanuel Dell'Erba, Johan Nus, and Mohamed Yamani don't quite hit the mark in trying to modernize the piece, so ingrained in the Hollywood of the 50s looking back at the 20s. The period costumes by Gaël Bros Vandyck, lighting by Arnaud Delmotte, and the presence of the great 20-piece orchestra, conducted by Patrick Leterme and visible onstage, are a definite plus to this production.

Despite its popularity in France, Singin' in the Rain will never belong to Broadway's classic musicals, but in these hard times so deprived of live performances, it is definitely uplifting, and the enthusiastic ovation it got from the socially distanced but large audience at the Massy Opéra was fully deserved. Next stop on the tour: Montpellier.


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