'Singin' in the Rain' Review - Hollywood Perfection
Singin’ in the Rain is one of those rare musicals that began on a Hollywood sound stage and only eventually came into a live action production. It is a creature of Hollywood, about Hollywood and has a few things built into its structure that fans of old Hollywood smile at and appreciate. And any production is all about how well the actors nail this antique style of performance.
The Marriott’s production does not disappoint. It is directed with antique flair by William Brown, played with zazz by the superb orchestra and gorgeously costumed in period perfection. Led by the brilliant Danny Gardner as Don Lockwood, every actor nails not only their character, but the breezy upbeat feel of a classic Hollywood 1930s screwball comedy. Because though Singin' in the Rain was put together and created in the heyday of the 1950s MGM musical, it was all about the earlier era and took its tone from the first talking picture comedies.
Let’s start with the music.
Singin’ in the Rain’s music is all repurposing of older songs and fitting them into a storyline concocted by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who won an award from the Writers Guild of America for their original screenplay. This was a popular Hollywood musical formula in the 1930s, and reprised here using songs written by producer Arthur Freed and his songwriting partner Nacio Herb Brown during the decade between 1929 and 1939. Seeing the entire plot of the story takes place during the advent of talking pictures, the era of the music isn’t far off from when the story is set, and so the songs are a perfect fit.
The only two songs that were written for this show are “Moses Supposes” music by Roger Edens and lyrics by Comden and Green, and “Make ‘Em Laugh” by Freed and Nacio Herb Brown (Very closely based on Cole Porter’s “Be A Clown”).
Wikipedia has an exhaustive list of where the other songs were used first. And they were mostly hits when they were used, so this musical starts with Freed and Brown’s greatest hits, bringing you a bunch of toe tappers you walk away singing.
And the voices on the cast do NOT disappoint in any way. From the three leads, Gardner as Lockwood, Mary Michael Patterson as Kathy Selden and Richard Riaz Yoder as Cosmo Brown, every song is delivered with tuneful zeal that keeps you enthralled. The singing is absolutely as good, if not better, than the film version. And everybody nails the acting.
A small shoutout here to the other actors. Alexandra Palkovic as Lina Lamont really has the best part, and she makes the most of it here. She’s hilarious and keeps the feel of the original Jean Hagen performance while adding even more layers of hilarity on top. It’s not a copycat performance, she’s playing Lina for herself. And this Lina is great. Amanda Tanguay as Zelda Zanders makes even more of an impression than Rita Moreno did in the original. Catherine Smitko, Jason Grimm and Gabriel Ruiz also make the most of their own roles and are a delight every minute they’re on stage.
And a note on the "silent movie" portions of the show that you might think would be difficult to translate to stage. Everyone did a fantastic job, even moving silently, so that there were no noises to distract you from the silent movie sections. And the black and white costumes which we see later in color, are part of the fun. Lighting design in these sections is also superb, with flickering to let you know you're watching a movie.
Lina Lamont makes a dumb show
But what everyone remembers about this musical is the dancing. Donald O’Connor deservedly won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Cosmo Brown by effectively stealing every scene he was in and creating the intricate “Make ‘Em Laugh.” And Gene Kelly and Cyd Charrise’s sizzling “Broadway Melody Ballet” is one of the most iconic dance sequences ever put on film, up to an including the title sequence with Kelly alone. How to pull that off on stage? That’s the question you have to ask of any production of this musical.
And the Marriott’s production has the heavy lifting of not only pulling it off on stage, but in the round. You shouldn’t worry. These folks can dance like mad. And choreographer Tammy Mader kept as much of the original Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen choreography as she could. Some iconic sequences are virtually identical so you don’t feel like you’re missing anything. And it’s even more impressive because here the dancers are doing it all live without multiple takes or days of shooting to make it look perfect. It just is perfect and they’re doing it right there in front of you.
And while there are no walls to run up in “Make ‘Em Laugh” Yoder is funny enough to make Donald O’Connor proud. And also, every time he and Gardner dance together, you wonder why they aren’t huge Broadway stars instead of Lockwood being in pictures and Cosmo not. They’re that good as a team.
The title sequence is just as charming as you could hope for with the edges of the stage being used as curbs and as much real water and splashing as you could wish.
Singin' in the Rain
And Gardner and Jessica Wolfram Raun burn up the stage in the Broadway Melody number. In fact, there are parts of that that are actually better than in the film. Here, it doesn’t go on too long and there aren’t all the reprises of the “Broadway Melody” until you’re sick of it. You’ve already seen that story earlier during “Fit as a Fiddle” anyway. And here there’s great use of the rest of the cast, hoofing like mad as interesting characters of their own. It’s just splendid in every way.
Broadway Melody Ballet
And when Raun shows up in the green dress and she and Gardner to a spot on perfect version of the dance. Impressive doesn’t begin to describe it especially as Raun is much smaller in relation to Gardner than Cyd Charisse was to Kelly and is doing all the same high kicks.
Broadway Melody Ballet
This whole production is utterly charming and includes the “Beautiful Girls” song, which is often cut. If you love this musical, Old Hollywood, or musicals in general this is a fabulous production and you should go.