Singin’ in the Rain seems like the type of beloved movie that shouldn’t be made into a stage version, with its perfect 1952 film, directed and choreographed by Gene Kelly and named by the AFI as the Greatest. Movie. Musical. Especially when you have a cast of eight, and an orchestra of two. Unless the lion in the room is addressed early. Say, by opening with that fabled MGM lion projected onto a big screen, fading into the famous opening credits of the movie. You know, the ones where the three main stars appear in raincoats, umbrellas in hand. It’s going to be a fun ride, right, because we’ve been on this ride before?
But, then, the film malfunctions and staff make a mad scramble to improvise. After all, we came to see a show and a show they will give us! Cue the premiere of The Royale Rascal, introduced by Elizabeth Spikes—I mean Dora Bailey, suddenly being played by Ms. Spikes—as the “cast” arrives. Some on the red carpet are mops (legitimate wooden-handled-white-locked mops) or one person playing a married couple. As I said, improvise. It’s fun and funny and sets the mood for a light-hearted affair, well aware that it may never top Kelly’s film. But, it is willing to try to tap its way into your heart, if you are willing to let it in.
Be willing. Because NextStop’s production of Singin’ in the Rain is a splendid creation that, with a nod and wink, cleverly and comically acknowledges its classic source. Will cut-up Cosmo Brown (Robert Mintz) run up a wall and flip during “Make ‘Em Laugh”? Naw, but you sure think he will, as Mintz rushes stage right and then fakes you out, turning to the audience, a knowing twinkle in his eye.
Just to recap the story: Talkies have taken over Hollywood, and silent film duo Don Lockwood (Wood Van Meter) and Lina Lamont (Carolyn Burke), desperate to stay in the game, must switch to sound in their newest endeavor The Dueling Cavalier. One (or three) problem(s): Lina sounds like a Brooklyn-bred squeaky toy, and her acting is eight shades beyond over-acting. Never mind that’s she’s also a delusional nut, who believes Don is her fiancée, and an all around mean girl.
Enter Kathy Seldon (Morgan Kelleher), a fresh-faced ingénue and aspiring actress who captures Don’s heart with her honesty (and assertiveness by throwing a cake to reject his advances). And, she’s got pipes—a honeyed, round, melodic voice worth loving. Cosmo (Mintz), Don’s childhood friend and business partner, hatches the plan to have Kathy dub Lina’s singing and speaking in The Dueling Cavalier, nay The Dancing Cavalier, as they agree it will be better as a musical. A grand plan that is sure to work. I think we all know where this is headed, but not to worry: happy endings are a hallmark of the golden age of film. Lina will get her comeuppances, and Lockwood will get the girl.
Everything here is stylish and entertaining. It has a charismatic cast that merits adoration. Choreography worth a whoop and a holler. A (still) witty script made all the more joyful under director Evan Hoffman, who’s made Singin’ in The Rain campy when it needs to be and perfectly serious as a quality production.
The dashing Wood Van Meter is easy on the eyes, fast with his feet, and as smooth a Lockwood as you can expect. Mintz steals about a million moments as the quippy Cosmo yet never overpowers a scene. As does Duane Monahan as R.F. Simpson—the movie studio head—and as Lockwood’s rather dull diction coach, who joins the dance on “Moses,” tapping his way into center stage, even as Lockwood and Cosmo continually escort him off and out of (what should be) their number. The three men know how to please a crowd, and Mintz, particularly, shows off why he doubles as choreographer. Breezy on his feet, he’s a thrill to watch. Also, is there any sound better than tap shoes—multiple sets—perfectly in synch? Nope, which also makes the peppy “Good Morning” another smiling-inducing pleaser that also features Kelleher’s Kathy.
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Then there is “Singin’ in the Rain,” the song. NextStop could just make it rain. But why go toe-to-toe with the film when they can’t flood the stage? Instead, with another droll wink, cat members pop up to spray Lockwood in the face—first with a vintage glass plant mister and then with old metal watering cans—as the audience is led in crowd-sourcing the sound effects: rubbing hands together and snapping fingers mimics the sounds of a nascent spring shower and twinkling stars. A lovely effect. And, indeed, it conjures a light rain.
Of course, some of the best scenes are scenes in scenes—you know, where they are “showing” the takes from Lockwood and Lamont silent films or The Dancing Cavalier. Lockwood in a bad wig, imitating a revolutionary-era Frenchman while sword fighting or pretending to be in love with Lamont. Kelleher is great—a perfect vision as the good girl with a golden heart—but Burke as the conniving, shrill, conceited Lina who can’t understand how talkies are made, among other things, brings a delightful naiveté to one of the best bad gals ever written.
“I make more money than Calvin Coolidge,” Lina screams. “Put together!”
Melrose Pyne Anderson and Ethan Van Slyke step out of the ensemble, most notably as Zelda Zanders and the Broadway Tenor who sings “Beautiful Girls,” respectively. Along with Spikes, they fill many roles and deserve a mad shout-out, along with the orchestra. If a piano and drums can rightfully be called one, which in this case, yes. Elisa Rosman, as the Music Director and Conductor, does it all.
Singin’ in the Rain from NextStop Theatre Company closes June 23, 2019. Details and tickets
This is a show that puts a spring in your feet and a hum in your head. You’ll walk out with a glorious feeling, as if Singin’ in the Rain truly is the nectar that banishes all the bad and ugly from a day, a week, a year, or a life. NextStop aims for the heart on this one and sticks the landing.
Singin’ in the Rain . Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Directed by Evan Hoffmann. Featuring Wood Van Meter, Robert Mintz, Morgan Kelleher, Carolyn Burke, Duane Monahan, Ethan Van Slyke, Melrose Pyne Anderson, Elizabeth Spikes and Suzy Alden (understudy) and Joseph McAlonan (understudy). Orchestra: Elisa Rosman, Keyboard/Conductor; Alex Aucoin, Drums; and Glenn Scimonelli, Drums. Production: Robert Mintz, Choreographer; Elisa Rosman, Music Director; Moyenda Kulemeka, Costume Designer; Max Doolittle, Lighting Designer; Kevin Alexander, Sound Designer; Alex Wade, Properties Designer; Hollyann Bucci, Assistant Director; Dylan Lambert, Choreography Assistant; Kayla Schultz, Dramaturg; Amelia McGinnis, Assistant Stage Manager; Megan Crenshaw, Assistant Stage Manager; Kate York, Assistant Stage Manager; Alex Bhargava, Sound Mixer; and Jonathan Abolins, Master Electrician. Stage Managed by Laura Moody. Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.
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