A Hollywood classic gets the royal treatment resulting in a heaping helping of theatrical magic courtesy of Olney Theatre Center’s staging of Singin’ in the Rain. As Hollywood ballyhoo might have trumpeted back in the day: Olney’s Singin’ in the Rain sings up a storm and rumbles the stage with a torrent of tap-dancing.
Boasting co-stars Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor, Singin’ in the Rain is possibly the best film musical from the heyday of MGM studios. The 1952 tuner centers around a major movie studio evolving from the silent film era in the late 1920s to talking pictures with all the growing pains and roadblocks Hollywood faced during the rough transition. Actors with horrible voices, technical glitches of every kind, and other behind the scenes misadventures were all included in the hilarious screenplay by Broadway legends Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
For this clever stage adaptation, Comden and Green are credited with the book, which is great news for fans of the film – all the classic lines and gags make the transition to the stage and are as fresh as daisies. Likewise the backstage plot is intact, here presented with a delightful twist: the audience has arrived at Monumental Pictures Studios for the making of (you guessed it) Singin’ in the Rain – and all talking, singing and dancing picture. And like the 1952 original, the catalog of Nacio Herb Brown and (lyricist turned film producer) Arthur Freed provides the tuneful array of songs for the evening.
Set designer Dan Conway sets the stage in glorious style, providing the look of a vintage soundstage, complete with old-style camera dollies, Klieg lights, costume racks – anything a film set might need to get the job done. When the company of actors arrives, they hustle around during the exciting overture in the manner of “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” (Kiss Me, Kate) to set the scene and enter the make believe world of Silent Film Era Hollywood.
Singin’ in the Rain closes January 5, 2020. Details and tickets
All the players from the film are present and accounted for: Hollywood dream couple Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, romantic co stars of Monumental Pictures’ series of costume swashbucklers. Rhett Guter has the effortless charm, pleasant baritone, and first class dancing skills to fill Gene Kelly’s shoes and cuts a dashing figure as Lockwood. As his co-star – and foil – Lamont, Farrell Parker pays homage to the tough talking, strident-voiced Lina while making the role her own.
Don’s longtime best pal, Cosmo is a musical (and comic) genius and is played to the hilt by a genius in his own right, Jacob Scott Tischler. Tischler’s one-man tour de force, “Make ‘Em Laugh,” is likely to stop the show every time.
Film director Roscoe Dexter (Chris Genebach) and studio head R.F. Simpson (Michael Russotto) keep the studio humming with new silent projects for the leading pair of stars. That is until word comes around that rival studio Warner Brothers is making a motion picture where the sound is synchronized with the images. Roscoe thinks the “talkies” will be a novelty but when R.F. sees what a hit “The Jazz Singer” is for the other studio, he orders Monumental to jump on the talking and singing bandwagon.
The “movie-within-a-musical” premise gallops apace as the audience sees the studio transform overnight, making “Beautiful Girls,” a Ziegfeld Follies-like musical number magnificently sung by tenor-voiced Max P. Fowler.
As everyone at Monumental struggles with the new way of making movies, Don crosses paths with up-and-coming starlet Kathy Selden- played with a contemporary flair by Amanda Castro. He is smitten and so is she but their cat and mouse romance makes for a charming courtship, culminating as in the movie in heightened, Hollywood fashion using the lights, props and even a smoke machine for maximum effect and the standard “You Were Meant for Me,” ending in a lovely pas de deux.
The stage adaptation weaves new material effortlessly into the film plot and thankfully retains many of the classic lines, such as one of my all time favorites: when the tough as nails Lamont asserts her contractual power over Lockwood, Selden and the studio, she poses the immortal question and answer, “What do you think I am – dumb or something? Why, I make more money than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!”
Throughout the thoroughly engaging evening, director Marcos Santana’s eye for detail and care for the material is clear. An added bonus for this production is that the audience gets to see parts of Lockwood and Lamont films – period perfect mini-movies which punctuate the musical, contributing to the Hollywood atmosphere.
Finally, Santana’s principal performers and ensemble make Grady McLeod Bowman’s exciting choreography seem effortless. Bowman’s work – particularly in the intimate numbers and tap specials such as “Moses Supposes” and “Good Mornin’” – pay tribute to Kelly’s choreography while adding new touches which are exciting to see. Guter, Tischler, and Castro practically tear up the stage with their precise tap skills and energetic dancing. The “Broadway Melody” sequence, while not as ambitious as in the 1952 film, has been scaled back but still serves the story well.
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Now the real question: Like the legendary Gene Kelly, does Guter’s Don Lockwood literally sing (and dance) in the rain? I am happy to report: yes! Director Santana and his technical wizards bring on the rain so that Guter can be be a kid again, paying homage to one of the most iconic scenes in American musical films. I, for one, had a smile on my face for the entire number. Seats near the front are a splash zone.
As a huge fan of the 1952 film, I had high hopes for this stage production of Singin’ in the Rain and Olney Theatre Center did not disappoint. Olney’s combination of Old-time Hollywood glamour and modern musical theatre know-how is a winning combination.
Singin’ in the Rain . Book By Betty Comden and Adolph Green . Music by Nacio Herb Brown and Lyrics by Arthur Freed . Directed by Marcos Santana . Featuring: Amanda Castro, Ian Anthony Coleman, Jennifer Flohr, Max P. Fowler, Chris Genebach, Rhett Guter, Andre Hinds, Ashleigh King, Ariel Messeca, Allie O’Donnell, Farrell Parker, Olivia Ashley Reed, Connor James Reilly, Michael Russotto, Ian Saunders, Sarah Anne Sillers, Jacob Scott Tischler, Louisa Tringali, Shawna Walker and Michael Wood. Choreographer Grady McLeod Bowman . Music Director Angie Benson . Set designer Dan Conway . Costume designer Rosemary Pardee . Lighting designer Andrew F. Griffin . Sound designer Roc Lee . Fight Choreographers Robb Hunter & Casey Kaleba . Stage manager John Keith Hall . Produced by Olney Theatre Center . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.