“I’ve a smile on my face”
As unlikely as it may seem, you could easily make the case that some of the best musical theatre happening in London right now is taking place above a pub in Highgate. John and Katie Plews’ Ovation Productions have a sterling record in small-scale smash-hit musicals at the Upstairs at the Gatehouse theatre and their festive shows are usually the pick of the bunch. This winter sees them take on the perennial classic Singin’ in the Rain and naturally, it is a gloriously resounding success. And yes, of course there is rain – you gotta go to see how they do it though.
The key to the Plews’ triumph lies in the uncanny ability to both distil and reimagine Broadway classics perfectly for this 120-or-so seat space and often in traverse. That means choreography (from Chris Whittaker) so audacious that audiences applaud mid-song, that means design (by Sarah June Mills) that hits all the key notes – a lamppost to lean on, steps to hop up and down on, seats to tip back – without cluttering the stage, that means musical direction (from Matt Ramplin, leading a band of six) unafraid to just exude Broadway pizzazz as it delivers the superbly evergreen score.
And marshalled together under John Plews’ direction, it all works together just decadently well. Monica Swelp’s silent film clips nail the hilariously histrionic tone that is falling out of fashion in Hollywood as epitomised by Thea Jo Wolfe’s uproariously squeaky Lina, Frankie Jenna (how lovely to see rise through the ranks like this to get a starring role) perfectly captures the natural charm that is rising to take its place, and the thoroughly charming and impossibly handsome and amazing dancer – God, I hate him! – Simon Adkins bridges these two worlds with real grace and dynamism.
The whole company shine brightly through the rain though, wielding their multi-coloured umbrellas and fetching raincoats – special mentions for Paul Harwood’s cheeky Cosmo taps with wonderfully watchable ease and Lindsay Atherton glistens in a starring moment in the Broadway Ballet. The cumulative effect is just heart-gladdeningly wonderful and a real testament to the achievements of this fringe theatre. If it weren’t sold out, I’d be back again in a flash to see just how those four boys did what they did: as it is, you can click here for details of how to get added to the waiting list, you won’t regret it.