Musicals need movement. No matter how many great songs there are, if everyone stands still while they sing them, you might as well go to the opera. Big dance numbers are vital to this, the lightest of light entertainment; they take the plot, then spin it like floss into fantasy. Never mind the fourth wall—in musicals, the less you believe the better.
So it’s perhaps surprising that more classically trained dancers haven’t crossed the musical stage. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly were all hoofers who knew enough about ballet to take what they wanted from it and ignore the rest. But only Cyd Charisse could call herself a ballerina proper—before pinioning Kelly in the man-trap of her thighs in MGM’s “Singin’ in the Rain”, she performed with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Even then, the name tells you all you need to know about how core that corps was.
Today’s musicals have one crossover star, though: the former Royal Ballet lead Adam Cooper, who takes the Kelly role in the revival of “Singin’ in the Rain” now transferring to the West End from Chichester. Since jumping ship for Matthew Bourne’s game-changing, all-male “Swan Lake” in 1995, Cooper has zig-zagged between classical and popular dance, performing and choreographing both the formidable (Romeo for the Scottish Ballet) and the fluffy (Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls”). As an actor, he has charm to spare; as a singer, he’s a tolerable baritone; but it’s as a dancer that he—and, according to reviews, the entire evening—takes off. A man who kicks puddles into rainbows: who would take realism when magic like that is on offer? ~ Isabel Lloyd
Singin’ in the Rain is previewing now at the Palace Theatre, London, and opens on February 16th