Singin’ In The Rain, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh *****
Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****
The magical Hollywood film Singin’ In The Rain celebrates its 70th birthday this year; and there’s surely no better way to mark the occasion than to spend an evening at the Festival Theatre revelling in this joyful UK touring stage version of the story, which sticks closely to the original script by Betty Comben and Adolph Green, and supplements the film’s gorgeous familiar song and dance numbers with additional songs, to make up a full two-and-a-half-hour playlist.
The story is famously set in 1920s Hollywood, during the dying days of the silent film industry; and this gorgeous-looking Chichester Festival Theatre production by Jonathan Church, with terrific design by Simon Higlett and dazzling choreography by Andrew Wright, exploits both the spectacular aspects of the story – the huge film studio stages, the silent film sequences, the famous rain-drenched street scene – and the pure comedy and romance of its showbiz plot.
The story revolves around silent movie star Don Lockwood, his musician friend Cosmo, the lovely and super-talented young actress Kathy Selden with whom he falls in love, and his lovely leading lady Lina Lamont, whose high-pitched chainsaw of a voice makes the transition to talking pictures a tough one for her; and in this UK touring production, each of these characters is delivered in pitch-perfect style by a young cast led by gifted American stage star Dan Lips as Don, lovely Strictly contestant Charlotte Gooch as Kathy, an impressive Ross McLaren as Cosmo, and Faye Tozer, who receives a huge final cheer from the audience for her hilarious performance as Lina.
All three of the leading stars sing well and dance brilliantly; but so, crucially, does every single member of a terrific 27-strong company, whose fabulous singing and dancing – including some breathtaking tap sequences, all superbly backed by Grant Walsh’s outstanding ten-piece band – leave the audience buzzing with joy and exhilaration, as they pour out of the theatre, into the Edinburgh night.
There’s also plenty of musical joy and energy at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh this week, where a fabulous female cast of five present a fast-paced 90 minutes of entertainment and agitprop for school-age and older audiences based on Kate Pankhurst’s Fantastically Great Women books.
Adapted for the stage by Chris Bush, who also provides lyrics for strong songs by Miranda Cooper and Jennifer Decilveo, Fantastically Great Women Who Changed The World tells the tale of Jade, a slightly timid 11-year-old who gets lost during a school museum visit, and finds herself in a magic gallery where she encounters a dazzling range of amazing women from the past, starting with Amelia Earhart and travelling on through Jane Austen, Frida Kahlo and the three Marys – Mary Seacole, Mary Anning, and Marie Curie – to Anne Frank and Rosa Parks.
There’s nothing subtle about a show which exists to deliver, with a kind of sledgehammer certainty, the idea that every young woman can be amazing, and that she doesn’t need to know exactly how, at the age of 11. Yet Fantastically Great Women boasts rousing songs, wild offbeat costumes by Joanna Scotcher, blazing colours and fearless performances in quantities that make it irresistible; not least on Wednesday night, when understudy Elise Zavou, standing in at the shortest possible notice, played the heroine Jade to perfection, and without missing a beat.
Singin’ in the Rain is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, until 30 April; His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, 2-6 August; and the King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 8-13 August. Fantastically Great Women at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until 30 April