'Singin' in the Rain' shines
The answer is yes: The justly renowned number in the Marriott Theatre’s just-opened production of “Singin’ in the Rain” is fabulous.
The rain falling on this in-the-round stage looks good. The water doesn’t reach Gene Kelly depths — this is live theater, not Hollywood — but there are credible puddles. And hoofer Danny Gardner delivers plenty of Kelly’s moves — skipping insouciantly, bouncing on and off a curb, grabbing hold of a lamp pole and gallantly offering his umbrella to a passing pedestrian.
Gardner looks smart channeling Don Lockwood when dancing in this production, and that’s a huge plus in beloved numbers alongside sidekick Cosmo Brown (Richard Riaz Yoder) like “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Moses Supposes” and, joined by love interest Kathy Selden (a captivating, beautifully voiced Mary Michael Patterson), “Good Mornin.’”
That’s before getting to the stupendous “Broadway Melody” after intermission, in which the entire hoofing ensemble gives its regards to Broadway, swirling around Don in a fever dream that pays homage to memorable Broadway musicals and dance formations, while offering a sizzling exchange between Don and the sexy Lady in Green (choreography by Tammy Mader).
William Brown is ideally suited to direct a show in which “Broadway Melody” is a variation on a consistently sounded theme, involving this self-conscious musical’s recognition that everything one sees on set or stage is referencing and repeating what’s gone before, from vaudeville and silent movies through the early days of the talkies.
Some of Brown’s substantial body of American Players Theatre work — the play within the play in his 2008 “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for example, or his uproariously funny direction of “The Critic” in 2011 — reflect a wry and loving recognition of the frequently unintended humor that’s involved when actors perform plays, which prove funny in all sorts of unexpected ways.
One gets plenty of that in this great musical, in which Hollywood’s transition to talkies comes with a boatload of unexpected consequences for an actor like Lina Lamont (a hilarious Alexandra Palkovic, who nails Lina’s obnoxiously broad, flat accent). In Cosmo’s memorable assessment, she can’t act, sing or dance, making her a triple threat. Lina is easy on the eyes, but a disaster following the introduction of sound.
Brown ingeniously captures this pivotal turning point by using actual actors rather than film clips to stage those scenes that we see on screens within the big screen in the 1952 movie.
Accompanied by a whirring suggesting old projectors, those actors appear in black and white, giving us live renditions of signature moments like the preview staging of Don and Lina’s initially disastrous foray into sound. At the risk of speaking heresy, moments like this come off better here than they do in the film.
Not everything in this production does. Gardner and Yoder sing and dance better than they act; Gardner conveys none of Kelly’s underlying melancholy, involving an actor who’s getting older and grappling with the recognition that stardom isn’t everything.
As presented here, Don’s love for Kathy is therefore missing that faint whiff of desperation that helps fuel their romance; Gardner and Patterson are both a tad too placid about what should come across as a game-changing event in their lives. It’s only as we near curtain — following the prank in which Don helps raise the curtain exposing Lina as a fraud — that one senses how badly Don and Kathy need each other.
No matter. This musical is called “Singin’ in the Rain,” after all. Brown’s cast is committed to making ‘em laugh, and does. It had me singing in the rain as I headed toward my car and started the rainy journey home.