Singing' in the Rain

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater
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When the decision was made to bring the hit movie musical to the stage, its originators Betty Comden and Adolph Green adapted their book with only minimal changes necessary for the confines of the theatrical stage. Nacio Herb Brown's music and Arthur Freed's lyrics had already become part of the musical canon, so its success was insured. First performed in London's West End in 1983 with Tommy Steele in the lead and also its director, it easily made the transition to New York and was nominated for a Tony award for best book in 1985. Given a fresh new look for La Mirada, director and choreographer Spencer Liff brings an energetic and youthful vibe to the production. Credit is given to Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen's original movie choreography.

Movie buffs know the story. Screen stars Don Lockwood (Michael Starr) and his leading lady Lena Lamont (Sara King) are facing the transition from silent to sound in the 1920s. Comden and Green looked at the notion that untrained voices had a rocky start in filmmaking and exaggerated that idea to create the delightfully grating Lamont as the dilemma for the fictitious Monumental Studios. Enter Kathy Selden (Kimberly Immanuel, also co-director with Liff), a virtual newcomer who Lockwood has fallen for, to save the day by dubbing Lamont's lines in their new movie, The Dancing Cavalier.

The story is helped along by Lockwood's best friend, Cosmo Brown (Brandon Burks), who can pair up for some excellent tap numbers and welcome comic relief. Burk's "Make 'Em Laugh" is a prodigious acrobatic feat made impressive by the fact that it has to be done live and with no outtakes. Also "Moses Supposes" by Starr and Burks is an audience pleaser for sure.

As hard as it is to re-create the classic Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor, and Jean Hagen roles so well known to current audiences, Starr and company give it their best. "Good Morning," which became Reynolds' first dancing number, is done with lively vitality by Starr, Immanuel, and Burks. Delighting audiences since its inception, Starr's "Singin' in the Rain," with actual water pouring from the sky and a downspout, and Starr's classic lamp post pose ending the first act are definite high points of the show.

Along with the stars' capabilities are some fine cameos by supporting players. Jamie Torcellini makes a fine early director complete with riding whip and jodhpurs. His frustration with Lamont's inability to talk into the microphone and his interplay with studio head R. F. Simpson (Peter Van Norden) create some fine moments in caricature.

The large supporting ensemble enliven the show. From stereotypical gossipy Dora Bailey (Kelley Dorney, also as Lamont's voice coach) to Adam Lendermon as the guy's diction coach in "Make 'Em Laugh," the crew tackle the show's many characters from the film. Bruce Merkle nicely fills in the part created by Jimmy Thompson in the musical pastiche "Beautiful Girl" with Rudy Vallee overtones.

Adding the most important element to a large scale musical must be the musical direction, and Keith Harrison capably leads the large orchestra, achieving the Broadway experience. The creative design team: Shon LeBlanc/costumes; Steven Young/lighting; Julie Ferrin/sound; and John Iacovelli/scenic create a new look for the La Mirada production to freshen the show.

The success of a show is determined by the audience reaction to the production, and many moments bring extended applause and gasps of pleasure as fancy footwork is exhibited and all the elements of the original movie come to life. On opening night, Patricia Ward Kelly, Gene's wife, appeared to promote her one-woman show chronicling his legacy coming in October at La Mirada. It's clear that Singin' in the Rain continues to be a welcome revival with its familiar music and cheerful romantic storyline.