Mirvish Times Two/ Singin’ in the Rain and The Shark Is Broken
David Mirvish has brought two productions from England, a musical and a straight play, to grace our aptly named royal theatres — the Princess of Wales and the Royal Alexandra. Oddly, they both have a connection to a film classic.
The musical is the famous Singin’ in the Rain from 1952. In this case, it is a faithful rendering of the movie. The Shark Is Broken, on the other hand, is a corollary, so to speak. The play has been inspired by the 1975 monster hit Jaws, and features the three lead actors — Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider — in down time, waiting for the mechanical shark to get fixed.
To different degrees, I enjoyed both productions, and what follows are my detailed reviews.
David Mirvish, Michael Harrison & Jonathan Church/Singin’ in the Rain, screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, choreography by Andrew Wright, directed by Jonathan Church, Princess of Wales Theatre, Sept. 23 to Oct. 23. Tickets available here.
Singin’ in the Rain is one of the greatest movie musicals ever made, so these are big shoes to fill. The good news is that this stage version works on many levels and is a great escape given the tenor of the times. The production is a thoroughly enjoyable outing, and I guarantee that you will walk out of the theatre with a big smile on your face.
I love a story that I heard Betty Comden and Adolph Green tell many years ago. MGM producer of musicals, Arthur Freed, (The Freed Unit), brought them out to Hollywood from New York to write an original script for a new musical. There were only two conditions. The story had to be built around songs written by Freed and partner Nacio Herb Brown, and the film had to be called Singin’ in the Rain. From these vague beginnings grew a fantastic script set in Hollywood in 1927 just as talkies were spelling the end of silent movies.
Curiously, there is no credit for adaptation in the program — just a screenplay writing credit for Comden and Green, yet someone, over the years must have crafted stage-worthy scenes that, by necessity, had to be different from the movie. For example, in the film, Don Lockwood meets Kathy Selden by jumping into her convertible. In the stage version, he is still running away from his adoring fans, but instead, corrals Kathy by grabbing her on a bench where she is sitting.
The first stage version of the movie was produced in England in 1983, followed by Broadway in 1985. It has subsequently been revived several times on both sides of the pond. This particular production comes from the Chichester Festival Theatre, but if I’m not mistaken, it began life at Sadler’s Wells in 2021, and then went on tour, only to be stopped dead by COVID. The two female leads were in the Sadler’s Wells production as were others in the ensemble.
The cast is all British except for the Gene Kelly/Don Lockwood role which is performed by American Sam Lips, and he is lovely, with an extremely pleasant voice and dance chops up the whazoo. In other words, very Gene Kellyish. The Donald O’Connor part, Cosmo Brown, is portrayed by Alastair Crosswell, who is short, fast, and a human dynamo when it comes to dance. He also has great comic timing.
Charlotte Gooch (Kathy Selden) can dance beautifully, but I found her soprano at the high end to be shrill. She looks good, though, and those wispy 1920s dresses are wonderful on her slender frame. Needless to say, Faye Tozer, she of the ugly voice, steals the show with a hilarious performance as the vain, cunning, dumb-is-smart, blonde bombshell, Lina Lamont.
Michael Brandon does a nice stately job as RF Simpson, the head of Monumental Pictures, while Brendan Cull does what he can with the thankless role of the Lockwood/Lamont film director, Roscoe Dexter. We should also mention George Lyons as the dialect coach who performs a fabulous tap number with Don and Cosmo to “Moses Supposes”. Not surprisingly, Lyons is Crosswell’s understudy. The vamping Cyd Charisse dance role in the Gotta Dance/Broadway Melody Ballet is perfectly manifested by the gorgeous, long-legged, sensuous, sinuous, sexy Harriet Samuel-Gray.
There is an exuberance about the show, due to director Jonathan Church keeping the action at a lively pace, and the cast really seems to be enjoying themselves. Church has also done something clever about the scene changes. Set pieces are moved about by the ensemble dressed as soundstage crew, so we are always aware that this is about a film.
Andrew Wright’s choreography is geared for the stage, although he does pay homage to the original movement by directors/choreographers Kelly and Stanley Donen. Also beautifully done are the black and white film sequences featuring Lockwood and Lamont, created by video designer Ian William Galloway. This is a very clever device. Consigning scenes from the The Duelling Cavalier to the screen saves wear and tear on the actors and solves impossible costume changes. (We also saw film clips in the original movie as well.)
And of course, there is the “Dancin’ in the Rain” main event which is performed under real water. How they managed that, I will never know, but it is real. In fact, it took the entire intermission for multiple stage crew to mop it all up.
The minute the audience heard the dum-de-dum-dum-dum-de-dum that introduces the song, they burst into applause, and were rewarded by Lips’ fabulous rendering of the dance, including splashes, water kicks and the swing around the lamp post. It’s a spectacular ending to the first act.
If I have one complaint, it is Simon Higlett’s set, which is greyish-brown and dreary. From time to time, Tim Mitchell’s light design does add colour but I found that nothing really relieved the dullness. I know it’s supposed to be a soundstage, but it is too dark. On the other hand, Higlett’s period costumes are wonderful. Go figure…
Singin’ in the Rain is an entertaining, what’s-not-to-like show, but be warned, you’ll be humming the songs for the next week.
David Mirvish, Sonia Friedman Productions & Scott Landis/The Shark Is Broken, written by Ian Shaw and Joseph Nixon, directed by Guy Masterson, Royal Alexandra Theatre, Sept. 15 to Nov. 6. Tickets available here.
As the play’s co-writer Ian Shaw says in his program notes, “And who doesn’t like a peek into a private world?” He is absolutely right, because I was vastly entertained listening to Robert Shaw (Ian Shaw), Richard Dreyfuss (Liam Murray Scott) and Roy Scheider (Demetri Goritsas) talk about their private lives. What really kept my attention was finding out things about these actors that I didn’t know.
Now I realize that some critics have felt that The Shark Is Broken is on the light side in terms of substance, but who cares? More to the point, the play had a successful three-day run in Brighton in 2019, was a sold-out hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, and was picked up for a transfer to the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End. Not too shabby a trajectory, I’d say.
Clearly, audiences loved the play. It certainly held interest for me, first, because of its subject matter — the troubled filming of Jaws in 1974 — and second, seeing three famous actors brought to life.
In the film, Shaw’s role was the professional shark hunter Quint, Dreyfuss was the marine biologist Hooper from Woods Hole, and Scheider was police chief Brodie. The writers of The Shark Is Broken seem to have imbued the actors with qualities of their characters. Shaw is a salty, boozing, quick-tempered, larger than life force of nature. He is one scary dude. Dreyfuss takes on Hooper’s snobbish, elitist persona who triggers all kinds of rage in Shaw, while the even-tempered Scheider has to act like the peacekeeper. Scheider’s main prop is a newspaper that he is forever reading.
The clever title, The Shark Is Broken, says it all. Bruce, as director Steven Spielberg named the mechanical shark, kept breaking down, and since Spielberg insisted on filming at sea, his three stars were trapped on the supposed Quint’s fishing boat, Orca, for hours on end. We see how they become more vulnerable as the boredom sets in. We also see the men tell personal stories, play games, opine about the movie industry and Hollywood in general, and also argue, and fiercely so. Occasionally, Spielberg is an offstage voice directing a scene.
My favourite part is the inside jokes where the actors predict things, but we know they are dead wrong. This always got a laugh. The three even believed that Jaws would be a colossal failure which got the biggest laugh of all. At one point, Shaw rhymes off four films, saying that no one will remember them, and he is very wrong indeed.
Ian Shaw tells us in the program notes that he got the idea for the play by looking at himself in the mirror with a moustache he had to grow for a role, and realizing he looked exactly like Capt. Quint. He had also read his father’s “drinking diary” which had profoundly moved him. This inspired him to jot down some ideas for a play, but it took many years to become a real venture.
What finally spurred Ian Shaw on was reading Carl Gottlieb’s 1975 The Jaws Log, a detailed account of everything that went wrong during the shoot. As he says in the program, “…and it occurred to me that there was an interesting story behind the scenes of one of cinema’s most legendary movies.” He approached his friend, Joseph Nixon, to join him as co-writer. I’m assuming they did research to find out about the personal lives of the actors, which drop like pearls before the audience. I do love gossip.
The acting is first rate. Ian Shaw as his father has the raspy voice down pat, along with the swagger and the boozy tirades. Scott’s Dreyfuss is a mercurial, paranoid, self-deprecating, wired bundle of nerves. Goritsas (who is Canadian-born), has the least showy role, and he perhaps underplays his island of calm a little too much. On the other hand, he shows his moxie when Scheider becomes enraged.
Duncan Henderson’s set is breathtaking. From the moment you walk into the theatre, you are aware of this boat in the middle of the ocean, gilded by Jon Clark’s atmospheric lighting, and Nina Dunn’s brilliant projections of sky and sea. It is all simply gorgeous. Adam Cork’s sound design is a very clever mix of John Williams’ Oscar-winning, very scary original score, and his own cinematic music.
The writers do find poignant moments, and the clever ending is absolutely beautiful. Nonetheless, the overall effect of the show is exhilarating, and director Guy Masterson has done a brilliant job of moving the actors around a very small space.
I was completely wrapped up in the performances, particularly the way the actors play off each other, and I mightily enjoyed finding out about them as men in real life. For example, I didn’t know that Dreyfuss came from a wealthy family.
Sometimes a play aimed at the masses can be downright fun.
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