SHELLEY MARSDEN talks to Singin’ In the Rain’s Louise Bowden about her lead role in the West End’s most feel-good show…
Certain experiences put such a stupid grin on your face that you’d love to bottle them up and take them home with you. Spending an evening at the Palace Theatre for Singin’ In the Rain is one. From the glamorous costumes to the MGM style dance routines, to the old-fashioned innocence of its central love story, everything about it is designed so that, as soon as you walk through the door, your sorrows vanish and you are enveloped in Hollywood’s joyous golden age.
Seasoned Dublin actress, singer and dancer Louise Bowden joined Jonathan Church’s critically acclaimed revival of the show mid-February in the lead role of Kathy Selden, at the same time as TV and theatre star Jennifer Ellison, who took on the part of silent movie siren, Lina Lamont. Singin’ In the Rain, which has been in London since it transferred after a sold-out run at the Chichester Theatre Festival in February last year, has been lauded by both audiences and critics. Unlike the jukebox musicals which there seem to be an abundance of, it has a heart and a story, be it a simple one that audiences identify with.
Anybody who’s seen the 1952 film and duly fallen in love with Gene Kelly’s iconic dancing knows the story. It’s 1927, and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are famous on-screen lovers. Lina, however, mistakes the on-screen romance for true love. When Don and Lina’s latest film is transformed into a musical to keep up with the emerging vogue for ‘Talkies’, Don’s voice is perfect for the songs. But Lina’s is a disaster, and they decide to dub over her voice. Aspiring actress Kathy Selden is brought in, and while she is working on the movie, Don falls in love with her. Will Kathy remain on the sidelines, or get the break her talent deserves?
The day I catch up with the blonde, bubbly Bowden, most of London is dancing in – or more accurately trudging through -the rain, and there isn’t a sequinned chorus-girl in sight. Rather than twirling round lampposts, grumpy Londoners are nearly poking each other’s eyes out with umbrella spokes as they scurry past each other. Wisely, Bowden is holed up in her dressing room surrounded by a dazzling array of glamorous outfits (she has eight costume changes a night), staying dry before she gets her nightly on-stage soaking as the musical lives up to its name.
This production is pure, unadulterated joy – is that how it feels to perform it?
It’s unbelievable. I look forward to coming into work! The journey you go on every night is immense – from the wonderful songs to the epic rain moment, it’s magical. I think it’s got to be every actress’s dream to play this role. I’ve certainly wanted to, since I was a kid. ‘Moses supposes his toeses are Roses’… that number was my favourite, I used to love it. It’s a dream come true, this part.
Did you try to keep close to how Debbie Reynolds played Kathy Selden in the movie?
I didn’t have her in mind, but Kathy has to be a little bit cheeky, and also very warm and full of heart. All those qualities she had are the elements I need to bring in. There are lots of bits of me in there and lots that aren’t me at all. It all happens organically in rehearsal. There’s subtlety and stillness with her, but she’s not a wet blanket; she has a real spark there. Kathy and Don toy with each other at the beginning and sparks fly but then they slowly fall in love. It’s that old-fashioned, MGM love story that’s hard to resist.
Which bits are like you then?
The warmth and the cheek! I love the first scene where she meets Don in the park, and she thinks he’s a criminal who’s trying to take advantage of her in some way, then she realises he’s this famous actor and she plays him, I think that’s one of the reasons he falls for her. That element of playing with someone, that impish element, is quite me – as opposed to the absolute doe-eyed lover.
You’re acting, singing and dancing throughout. Are you exhausted after a show?
It’s what they call the triple threat role, yes, it’s pretty full on. But the heart and the truth of the story is so important and, as much as there is wonderful singing and dancing, what means more is the core of the piece. It’s very showbiz, yes, and we’re all breaking into song, but if it didn’t come from a true place it couldn’t possibly be believed. That’s important to me. But of course, you have to make sure your voice and your body are warmed up each night – it’s a marathon. But it’s a joy. I can’t say it’s tough.
Royal Ballet alumnus Adam Cooper plays Don; does he capture some of Kelly’s magic?
I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He’s amazing. He encapsulates Gene Kelly’s spirit, and his dancing skills are just phenomenal. There aren’t many people out there that could play that role quite like he does. He also has great stillness and star quality, which that handsome leading man role needs to have for it to be any way believable.
I take it you’ve never crawled under a piano and started bawling in rehearsals (which is what Reynolds apparently did until Fred Estaire, who was in the studio at the time, went over to comfort her)?
Haha! No, no, it’s never got quite that bad. I didn’t realise the relationship between Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly was so fraught until I started reading more around the film. They didn’t get on very well because he regarded her as a novice when it came to dancing, and she had to have one-on-one tutorials from him. Let’s just be diplomatic and say I don’t think he was the ‘kindest’ of people to her.
For the full interview, see the May 4 edition of The Irish World