Singin’ in the Rain started life as an MGM film in 1952 showcasing the talents of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds. It later became a classic film legend, even though it originally only enjoyed modest success. It tells the memorable story from the 1920s about the transition of the film industry from silent films to talkies, and humorously details the challenges felt by those unfortunate silent film stars whose voices were better left unheard. In the mid-1980s, the film was faithfully adapted for the stage keeping the story and all of the songs and memorable dances intact. It’s actually a little surprising that it took until the mid-80s to reach the stage given that its story fits the traditional musical mold so well. It’s an uplifting tale of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back in the end after a few interesting twists and complications. Then again, this show requires three true triple threats along with a well-synchronized dance ensemble, masters of tap one and all. And it requires on-stage rain, so it’s not a trivial matter to mount a successful production.
The story surrounds Don Lockwood (Ryan Blanning), a silent film star and hoofer extraordinaire; his vapid leading lady whom he detests, Lina Lamont (Jen Brooks); his longtime pal and sidekick, Cosmo Brown (Randy O’Hara); and Kathy Selden (Amanda Farbstein), the woman he’s head-over-heels about after a chance encounter on a park bench. The studio head, R. F. Simpson (Todd Wright), is dashed after the success of the new talking film, The Jazz Singer. With Cosmo’s urging, Simpson decides to convert their current film in production from silent to talkie, tapping director Roscoe Dexter (Steve Anthony) and the boys for a little creative technical shuffling. Hilarious hijinks ensue as a result.
Scenic designer Kelly James Tighe provides an attractive and effective set capturing the feel of a Hollywood sound stage, although even the “outdoor” scenes feel as though they are still taking place on that sound stage. The interior scenes have nice detailing using a set of easily moved set pieces and furnishings, whether the scene takes place on-set while filming, in a sound studio dubbing voices, or in one of the various offices depicted. The outdoor scenes require a bit more suspension of disbelief given the back wall’s “warehouse” look and the old-time “rolling Hollywoodland hills,” but it is period appropriate and works in that context.
Director Alex Perez and choreographer Robyn Tribuzi stage a very compelling production. The two most striking aspects of this show are the seamless movements between scenes, and the stunning choreography throughout the performance. The opening scene of a bustling sound stage in action under the Overture, first behind a scrim, and then in full view introduces the show beautifully.
Blanning and O’Hara match one another step-for-step in all of their dance duets, “Moses Supposes” being particularly snappy as the vocals in that one aren’t so much melodic, rather are just as rhythmic as the dance moves. Farbstein completes the dance trio for “Good Morning,” although on opening night, they appeared to have a slight set mishap when the bench didn’t tip over for that number’s finale. O’Hara’s big solo dance number, “Make ‘Em Laugh,” is brilliant all the way down to his battle with his inanimate “partner” behind the sofa. Blanning’s dancing under the downpour in the title number would give Mr. Kelly a run for his money.
This show is known for its legendary dancing, and the cast delivers a performance with precision, synchronicity, and energy that the original film cast would admire. The choice was clearly made to focus on dancers in this production. Given such challenging tap numbers, it is understandable, especially given a stage cast must nail its performance in a “single take” each night.
Still, there is more to this show than just dancing. This is a musical, and its songs are famous as well. The standout vocalist is Production Tenor, Daniel Lloyd Pias. His rendition of “Beautiful Girl,” along with its elegant staging, is lovely. It truly hearkens back to the heyday of MGM.
O’Hara and Farbstein, while clearly stronger dancers than singers, are able to hold their own and do a credible job with their songs. Brooks has the comic number “What’s Wrong With Me?” that isn’t listed in the program for some reason. In her case, since her character is clearly a silent film star who should remain silent, the effect of her intentionally awful vocal is right on point. Blanning’s Lockwood is also a silent film star, though he is supposed to successfully transition to talkies. While Blanning’s speaking voice is suitable, unfortunately he has such a wide vibrato and harsh tone when singing that he is unintentionally painful to listen to at times.
The ensemble is nicely appointed, and they get to shine in the late Act 2, “Broadway Melody” as well as in the finale’s reprise of the title tune. Vocally and choreographically, they are a joy to watch.
Joe Murphy’s orchestra is very solid, if slightly muted in portions of the house. This reviewer was seated toward the back of the auditorium, and the cast members’ diction came through very clearly in that section. The orchestra was sometimes covered up by the cast, even though they were clearly much louder closer to the pit. Chalk that up to the acoustics of the house. Nonetheless, the orchestra’s precision and internal balance is admirable, and all of the flourishes come through in this charming score.
Also included in this production are projected film sequences that were shot at a Beaux Arts mansion in Atherton, CA. These sequences bring the feel of that transition era to life in a rather dramatic, and comedic way, and they greatly enhance the experience for the audience.
This is a show that will delight audiences throughout its run. Its energy is contagious, and the familiarity of the music and the iconic visuals recreated on stage will remind everyone, young and old alike, of why this show is so beloved.
What: Singin’ in the Rain: Music by Nacio Herb Brown; Lyrics by Arthur Freed; Book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Where & When: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway Street, Redwood City, CA through 19 November 2017
See http://broadwaybythebay.org or call (650)579-5565 for tickets or more information.
(Photo credits: Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin)
Singin’ in the Rain (DVD)