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poster horizThe elderly man in the queue for ice-cream at the interval was adamant. “It’s the greatest musical of all time,” he said. He’d won his tickets on Lyric FM. The question was: who played the part of Kathy Selden in the original 1952 movie.

“I’ve been trying to remember that myself,” I said. “Who was it?”

“Debbie Reynolds,” he replied. “And Donald O’Connor played Cosmo Brown.”

We’re talking about ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, a stage version of which opened at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre in Dublin’s docklands last night.

Is it the greatest musical of all time? Certainly, it’s got great songs: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ itself, of course, but also ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, ‘Good Morning’, ‘Moses Supposes’, ‘You Were Meant for Me’ and ‘Would You’.

None of these was written originally for the movie. That 1952 production was a kind of pick ’n’ mix of earlier productions. But Gene Kelly, who directed and of course starred as Don Lockwood, brought them all together wonderfully well, and made ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ his own.

James Leece as Don Lockwood

James Leece as Don Lockwood

The plot is simple. Lena Lamont and Don Lockwood are the biggest stars of Monument Pictures. The studio must move with the times and make a ‘talkie’. The only problem is: Lena talks like a New York prostitute.

Enter Kathy Selden, the archetypal feisty, good-hearted girl – they type played by Reynolds of Doris Day – whose voice is dubbed in for Lena’s. Don and Kathy fall in love, and Lena doesn’t like it.

On stage last night were James Leece as Don, Amy Ellen Richardson as Kathy, Stephane Anelli as Don’s sidekick Cosmo and Vicky Binns as Lena.

They delivered a great, foot-tapping, singalong show, full of Broadway verve and old-style song-and-dance energy.

Leece, Richardson and Anelli in the show's finale.

Leece, Richardson and Anelli in the show’s finale.

As you watch, the movie comes back to you. Will they do the over-the-sofa move during ‘Good Morning’. They do. Will there by a policeman interrupting ‘Singin’ in the Rain’? There will.

Will Stephane Anelli be as good as that ultimate trouper Ronald O’Connor? He is. And will Amy Ellen Richardson match the cheery, rosy-cheeked, girl-next-door goodness of Debbie Reynolds?

Oh yes. She is perhaps the best thing in it. She has a voice like treacle and moves like a pro. Her solo numbers are wonderful moments.

And will James Leece, who has the hardest task of all, be any sort of match for Gene Kelly? Well, almost. Leece is tall and lithe; Kelly was stocky and muscular. Leece is a trained ballet dancer, and it shows. He doesn’t have that pep and punch that an old tap dancer like Kelly had.

The closing number at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

The closing number at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

He is all long lines and beautiful shapes. He has wonderful balance and poise. He is always in time with the ensemble. But he lacks the athleticism necessary. Beside Anelli, the difference is stark. Anelli is a dancer; Reece is a ballet dancer.

But Reece can sing. He does full justice to the musical’s iconic numbers. And he is a winning presence on stage.

Vicky Binns, the TV soap actress, is excellent as Lena do-you-think-I’m-dumb-or-sumptin Lamont. And Paul Grunert as the put-upon director of ‘The Dancing Cavalier’ steals every scene he’s in.

There was something wonderful about the Hollywood musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. They were so wistful in some ways. There is a very powerful nostalgia about them.

‘Singin in the Rain’ is an exemplar of the genre – its plot harks back to the movies of the 1920s, so it is nostalgia within nostalgia.

This production, which opened in the West End in London and has toured all over the UK, is a great night’s entertainment. The finale, an ensemble reprise of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, will send you out smiling – and humming.

PS – 12,000 litres of water are used during the show. The dancers splash it into the first few rows of the audience, so bring a brolly. It’s recycled (and heated to 30 degrees), so will not be liable for our new water tax.

Theatre info here. Ticket info here.