In Marriott's 'Singin' In The Rain,' casting is king
About 10 years back, The American Film Institute named the top 25 American movie musicals of all time. “My Fair Lady,” “Mary Poppins,” “The Sound of Music” and “West Side Story” all were in the top 10, but the top spot went to my personal favorite, the classic 1952 MGM musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” with the amazing Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds. The late film critic Roger Ebert agreed, calling it “the greatest Hollywood musical ever made.”
While a 1985 Broadway staging of the musical ran for more than 360 performances and received two Tony Award nominations, the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire realizes the movie was a classic. So it doesn’t tinker too much with success. Its new production, directed by William Brown, provides all the elements you’d want to see:
• A fun plot about a fictional movie studio transitioning in the 1920s from silent pictures to sound.
• A lot of amazing dance numbers (applause, applause for four-time Jefferson Award-winning choreographer Tammy Mader), with tap dancing featured throughout.
• All those great songs you may remember from the 1952 movie, including “Good Mornin’,” “You Are My Lucky Star” and – of course – the title number, performed with joyful abandon in the midst of a steady downpour.
At the Saturday afternoon performance I saw, the hard-working 21-member cast earned its standing ovation from a packed house that laughed in all the right places and applauded every musical number. As I heard one audience member say after the show, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore.”
For those unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a brief synopsis: Don Lockwood is a big Hollywood silent picture star (a marquee on the set in the Marriott theater promotes the premiere of “The Royal Rascal,” the “biggest picture of 1927”), and Lina Lamont is his female costar. Lockwood has a beautiful singing and speaking voice, even though he doesn’t need to use it on film, while Lamont is at the other end of the spectrum (i.e., the vocal equivalent of chalk on a blackboard).
Lockwood’s best friend is former vaudeville partner Cosmo Brown, whose sense of humor is almost as well-honed as his musical talent. Enter aspiring actress Kathy Selden, who has a meet-cute with Lockwood and enchants him, partly because she doesn’t immediately swoon at his feet. Meanwhile, the movie studio has a lot riding on Lockwood and Lamont continuing their series of box office successes, but the success of “The Jazz Singer,” the first “talking picture,” means the duo’s next film must have sound. That shouldn’t be an issue, but even beyond the problems with the sound of her voice, Lamont’s abilities are limited (e.g., as Brown says at one point, “She can’t sing, she can’t dance, she can’t act – she’s a triple threat”), and Lamont is jealous of Selden as a rival for Lockwood.
In Marriott’s production, casting is king. Danny Gardner, as Lockwood, makes his Marriott debut and wins over the audience handily as a man in love.
When Lockwood uses lighting, a fan and mist to set the mood before singing “You Were Meant for Me” to Selden (Mary Michael Patterson), Gardner shows you the charmer at his most charming. Gardner’s tap dancing expertise is met, step for step, by Richard Riaz Yoder, as Brown.
A show highlight is Yoder’s version of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which achieves the title’s objective, culminating in an unexpected costume change in the midst of a ton of physical humor. When Gardner and Yoder team up for “Moses Supposes,” their serious vocal coach can’t help but be swept up in the dancing fun.
Also, Patterson has a lovely singing voice, and she makes the chemistry between Lockwood and Selden believable. Finally, Alexandra Palkovic, as Lamont, made me eagerly anticipate every scene she was in, because I knew I’d chuckle.
A reminder that performances at the Marriott Theatre are in the round. That means you may not be able to get the full effect of certain scenes if you’re behind the actor (e.g., when Lamont is facing a movie camera in a sequence humorously addressing how to mike her). But that’s a minor quibble. Overall, just like the cake Selden pops out of early on, this show is “full of delicious surprises.” Trust me on this: “Singin’ in the Rain” is a lot of fun, and I’m not all wet.