Justin Ostergard, Kayla Peabody, and Matthew Brennan in Singin’ in the Rain.
Photo-Derby Dinner Playhouse
Singin’ in the Rain
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I love movies, I love musicals and I love Singin’ in the Rain. It’s often claimed that the classic movie from 1952 is THE greatest movie musical ever produced, with iconic songs and some of Gene Kelly’s most virtuoso choreography. It also sported a terrific screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (On the Town) that satirized Hollywood’s rocky transition from silent to sound films.
So we might begin by recognizing the obvious: that nobody will match the original. It just isn’t going to happen. It is a challenge other stage musicals adapted from movie musicals have faced. White Christmas comes to mind. And we’re not talking about non-musical stories adapted for the stage and transformed into a musical like The Color Purple, Legally Blonde, Shrek, Footloose, etc. That list keeps growing and the musical versions often enough stand apart from their source in conception. But Singin’ in the Rain is a very direct translation that uses the screenplay as its book, only has one new number, and actually delivers a rain-soaked stage for the title number, so it fairly demands the comparison.
A series of round platforms designed to look like film reels make up the stage, appropriately connoting the 1920’s Hollywood setting and also, again reminding us of the cinematic original. Aside from the aforementioned extra song, it doesn’t alter the score much, except for a couple moments of reprise, including a full-cast revisiting of the title song as finale.
As for that famous rain-drenched title number, it steals the show but not necessarily in the best way. When Don Lockwood frolics around the light post, his movements seem designed more to splash optimal amounts of water onto giddy patrons seated alongside the stage than to dazzle us with his dancing. While it is true that the audience was delighted, and even the cue (explained in the Footnotes pre-show) for those about to be drenched to don their complimentary disposable rain ponchos earned the biggest laugh of the night, it seems a shame to reduce one of the most famous dances in film history to near-slapstick audience interaction. Since we cannot have Gene Kelly, perhaps this shift makes sense, but my not unreasonable expectation was for a bravura dance number, and this was not that.
Other moments fare better, and Kaya Peabody was a pert presence as Kathy Selden, showing off a magnificent singing voice in “You Are My Lucky Star”. “Moses Supposes” and “Make Em Laugh” both approach the subversive energy of the originals, and feature fine work from Matthew Brennan as Don’s buddy Cosmo Brown (and ensemble member Josh Levinson in the former), while “Good Morning” sparkles well enough with high energy and dance. Jillian Prefach is nearly everything you want as Lina Lamont, grating voice and comic timing making her one of the surest characterizations in the show, and J. R Stuart pushes director Rosco Dexter into a sly lampoon of the ubiquitous European émigré filmmakers in early Hollywood. As head of Monument Pictures R.F. Simpson, Paul Kerr confidently finds all the jokes and spineless bluster of the role.
Justin Ostergard was a genial and inoffensive Don Lockwood, although the lack of charisma robs the show of its center to some degree. He comes off like a good neighbor more than the hottest movie star of the day. He did sing well in a nice, smooth manner, and his dancing was not bad at all.
The production includes “Broadway Melody”, which, in both film and stage versions, is presented nonsensically as a stand-alone showpiece that has little relationship to the plot. In the film, it becomes one of Kelly’s grandest ballets, almost a movie unto itself, with epic, sweeping crane shots and a truly sexy pas de deux with Cyd Charisse. Here it holds much the same relationship to the rest of the show, and gives us a little of the same erotic charge. Its brevity and more splashy presentation is still modest in comparison, but allows the joke that follows between Cosmo and R.F. to make better sense.
While this Singin’ in the Rain certainly won’t erase your affection for the original, it does manage to be an easy and engaging entertainment, and in the end, Lina Lamont’s comeuppance is every bit as satisfying as in the movie.
Singin’ in the Rain
April 2 – May 18, 2014
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129