Thursday, June 20, 2013
Theater review: Singin’ In The Rain brings musical fun to Garland Summer Musicals stage
It may not be exactly like the original film, but it's close enough to inspire awe.
GARLAND Singin’ in the Rain is largely considered one of the great movie musicals of all time and one of the best movies about making movies. The 1952 original film starred the great Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
The simple story follows a small group of actors, performers, and filmmakers as they struggle to adapt to the recent invention of the talking picture in 1927. The movie is less about the story and more an excuse for collecting a series of inspired musical moments showing them off in a revue style format. This fact is what makes this adaptation such a natural fit for the stage.
A Broadway mounting proved mildly successful in 1985, but it received enough lukewarm reception to justify a major creative overhaul prior to a London revival in 2000 and most recently in 2012.
Garland Summer Musicals’ production of Singin’ in the Rain is a faithful homage to this classic and beloved entertainment. All of the major production pieces are intact, as any nostalgic fan will remember them from the film. It would be very easy for any audience member to nitpick each scene when comparing and contrasting the original film to the stage version, but doing so would be to miss the point. This production merely wanted to evoke the spirit of the original and it did so quite well.
The opening tap dance number by the ensemble in front of the grand drape curtain quickly set me at ease as to the level of dexterity that this large cast could achieve. Kelly McCain’s choreography incorporated tap dancing in almost every single number and each one had its own unique rhythm without ever seeming to repeat itself.
Additional choreography was by Joseph Jones who also filled the shoes of Don Lockwood, the character originally created by Gene Kelly. Mr. Jones’ dance style more closely resembled the graceful tapper Fred Astaire then the raw athleticism of Gene Kelly. This is not a back-handed compliment as Mr. Jones’ dancing was always entertaining and light on his feet in his numerous tap dance numbers, especially his riff on the title song with the added element of manufactured rain on the stage. It was a solid showstopper to close the second act.
Mr. Jones shared excellent chemistry with Carl DeForrest Hendin as Lockwood’s creative partner, Cosmo Brown. In some ways, Hendin had the biggest shoes to fill by playing the role that Donald O’Conner is most known for. It is no easy task to recreate the signature vaudevillian number, “Make ‘Em Laugh” but Hendin was game. His pratfalls, tomfoolery and all other physically exhausting antics were well timed and well executed without breaking a sweat as he did all of this while singing with vibrant gusto.
Haley Ewerz rounds out the trio of leading roles as Kathy Selden. Ms. Ewerz was appropriately rigid in her portrayal, but also playfully spunky as Kathy develops a love/hate relationship with the Don Lockwood character. When they weren’t singing a duet or to each other, the chemistry between Ms. Ewerz and Mr. Jones was lacking; however, all of that changed whenever any one of them made a melodic 180. “You Are My Lucky Star” was simple, sweet and made for a refreshing moment as I finally believed these two as lovebirds.
None of the already very tight singing and dancing ensemble stole the show but Julie Mayer came pretty close. She plays Lina Lamont, a silent film starlet who is threatened by the change from silent film to big musical talkies, because she can’t act and can’t sing. Ms. Mayer hit every comic note with just the right amount of finesse in a ditzy, squeaky voice that was never over the top. As an added bonus, she was given one of the few musical numbers not in the original film, “What’s Wrong with Me.” Her comic delivery was delightful and the actress was finally able to show off her impressive pipes.
Rounding out the standouts were Jay Taylor as R.F. Simpson, Steven Golin as Roscoe Dexter, and Thomas C. Renner as the production tenor soloist. Mr. Taylor was slick and likable as the studio head and had a welcome polish to his delivery as if he just stepped out of a 1930s drawing room comedy. Mr. Golin was hilarious as the film director and didn’t waste a single double-take or slow burn in a comedy of errors sequence where everything goes wrong as the movie within the play gets re-mastered with sound. Thomas C. Renner gave the best vocal performance of the evening with his smooth rendition of “Beautiful Girls.”
The technical direction by Rachel Dupree was impressive in its efficiency. I did not witness a single hitch in the countless moving of scenery, lighting transitions, costume changes or specials effects. The fluidity of all these transitions did much in keeping the story flowing at a pace that was snappy and energetic.
The sound mixing of the microphones by Wes Weisheit was well-balanced between the actor’s singing and the spot on orchestra.
Kelly Cox’s set design kept to the bare essentials to aid in quick changes but made her design pop out when it mattered most. In the musical number “You Were Meant for Me,” wonderful advantage was taken of the open space to recreate it as a sound stage. The painted Hollywood backdrop was effective as was the giant New York backdrop during the show’s biggest musical number “Broadway Melody.” Cox’s best accomplishment was creating a practical street exterior for the signature rain sequence. It was a pretty wonder to watch and gave the choreography ample space and countless variations to play with.
Ms. White’s lighting design alternated was both vibrant and ambient. Her lighting levels were consistently timed perfectly with the music and the tone of the scene taking place. White’s lighting design and costuming by Michael Robinson and Suzi Cranford complemented each other splendidly. The costume design was faithful to the period as well as the lavish colors of the original film. I particularly liked the selection and look of the tuxedoes as all the men were well fitted to their appropriate build.
All of these elements were overseen by the excellent direction of Mr. Buff Shurr. Mr. Shurr clearly treated the staging of this adapted musical with the utmost thoughtfulness and respect to the source material. That may not be very original to some, but it was certainly full of a lot of joy to behold.
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