Talk about ‘A Glorious Feeling’! “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts”, in association with “McCoy-Rigby Entertainment” is celebrating their 25th Anniversary at the theater by offering the iconic “Singin’ In The Rain”.
A musical phenomenon based on the classic 1952 movie starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, (which many deem to be the greatest Big-Screen musical of all time,) this stage translation features a book by Musical-Theater legends, Betty Comden and Adolph Green (faithfully adapted from their award-winning screenplay,) while the complete treasure-trove of cherished songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed are all along for this jaunty ‘tap-soaked’ outing as well. Recalling the ‘Golden Days’ of the ‘Golden Age’ of Musicals, this new staging is directed and choreographed by Spencer Liff with Musical Direction by Keith Harrison. The two have respectfully (if not always reverentially) ensured each unforgettable scene, song, and eye-popping dance number are present and accounted for, including “You Are My Lucky Star”, “Good Morning”, “All I Do (The Whole Day Through) Is Dream Of You”, “Moses Supposes”, and especially the show-stopping title tune, which is made all the more astounding by an authentic onstage rainstorm!
The plot should be fairly familiar to anyone even passingly acquainted with the MGM blockbuster on which it is based. Set in the late 1920’s at an uncertain time when films were going from ‘silents’ to ‘talkies’, dashing Matinee Idol “Don Lockwood” tries to save his latest project tiled “The Dueling Cavalier”–not only by adapting it for the new medium of sound, but by also turning it into a full-fledged musical to boot. With help of his boyhood BFF, “Cosmo Brown”, and his new lady-love, an aspiring ‘serious actress’ named “Kathy Selden”, they change the name to “The Dancing Cavalier” and make ready to record a whole new sound-track. There’s just one problem though, Don’s on-screen Co-star, the bitchy (and more than a little clueless) silver-screen ‘Siren’, “Lina Lamont” has a voice like fingernails on a blackboard and can’t sing a note. Can (and will) the more talented “Kathy” agree to overdub her, even it means putting her own hoped-for success on hold? The big laughs, buoyant melodies and breath-taking footwork, much like the rain-showers that fill the stage, can fill buckets of fast, furious, fun!
More a knowing ‘homage’ to the cinematic mega-hit than an outright ‘reproduction’ of it, Liff references just enough of the film, while re-envisioning other parts to keep this fresh and in a few places, even nicely surprising! He provides little intermittent variations on previous staging’s, but this keep the story (and the way they’re telling it) interesting and unpredictable. During the overture, stills from silent-era films (and stars) are flashed up on the scrim, aiding in setting the mood and the times. Add to it the way he has several ‘Usherettes’ (appropriately armed with flashlights) enter through the auditorium and ascending the stage with the ‘exciting news’ that we’re about to be taken to a big movie premiere—at no less than the world famous “Graumans’ Chinese Theater” yet! Once the curtain opens, there we are, under the looming “Hollywoodland” sign as we meet the main members of this tale’s dramatis personae as they strut down the red carpet. Expositionary ‘flashback’ sequences outlining “Don” and “Cosmo’s” formative years and Vaudevillian ‘background’ (frequently performed live) are here instead, likewise committed to film and flashed up on the back scrim, as “Don” recounts them, while his background with “Lina” (which details the reasons behind his enmity toward her,) is pretty much omitted completely. Even the much-hailed appellative number defies expectation somewhat, when Liff, as if to disarm any pre-conceived anticipation, initially introduces the ‘rain’ as mere projections (once again appearing on and over the scrim.) Indeed, when the curtains lift to reveal the full “Street” set where Don’s classic cavorting will occur, things are left ‘precipitation free’ as he walks on to it. Then, with a sudden flash of ‘light-ening’ (accompanied by the typical ‘clap of thunder of course,) the rain categorically does begin to fall—in copious amounts, providing the required ‘atmosphere’ for our hero to buck, wing, step, stamp, stomp, cramp and roll in to his hearts’ content (and our unmitigated thrill!)
Liff also serves double-duty as Choreographer–and what a wealth of material he has to work with! After all, this is a ‘Dancers’ show if ever there was one and while those dances might not steadfastly be exactly what you’d expect, they never disappoint either! Even the scene-changes are done amid a plethora of fancy-footwork! Take for example the sultry “Tango” that introduces Studio Head “R.F. Simpson’s” Post-Screening Hollywood Party (bathed in crimson light!) This is followed by some lively “Charleston” moves as part of “All I Do”–after which Kathy accidentally smacks Lina in the Kisser with a piece of cake! (Yes, it’s a longstanding slapstick standard but it still works and is even funnier seeing it up close and ‘live’.) He also integrates some flashy rolling-shuffles and rapid high-kicks in between plenty of frenetic triple time-steps in the midst of the introductory, “Fit As A Fiddle” routine. (As it happens, triple time-steps and rolling shuffles seem to be his go to moves here!) Then the lithe and lilting waltz “Don” and “Kathy” undertake as part of “You Were Meant For Me” also helps this one rocket into “Show-stopper” status. Just as creditable is his stewardship of the festive canzone, “Good Morning”. While bemoaning the catastrophic reception a preview audience has given the “talking” “Dueling Cavalier”, “Don”, “Kathy” and (mostly) “Cosmo”, literally stumble upon the way to make it work–this time as a musical. This leads them to exult “Good Morning” to a promising new day for them all—and they do it with plenty of high energy tap-dancing (even up a nearby staircase, at the top of which “Kathy” caps things off with a breathtaking toe-stand!) Yet it’s not just with those interludes where you assume there’ll be some polished maneuvers; periodically, he’s thrown in a few surprises to those you thought you already knew. Case-In-Point: his clever re-imagining of the tongue-twisting “Moses Supposes”, so that once “Don” and “Cosmo” start in with some high falutin’ hoofin’, the stodgy Diction Coach joins right in with them–making for a bracingly ingenious change of pace (and all three heighten this ‘minor’ little intermezzo into something stunning and memorable!) Subsequently, we find that he’s similarly re-imagined and streamlined the basic narrative within the extended “Broadway Melody” sequence by shrewdly shifting the focus from the ‘story’ it’s supposed to tell, back on to where it should be—on the incredible dancing! Another admirable accomplishment for everyone involved, this is arguably where the film’s choreography is followed the closest too!
At the heart of all the action, Michael Starr exudes plenty of boyish charm that’s only surpassed by his distinguished singing and dancing abilities as “Don Lockwood”. He promptly validates these talents with his “flashback’ ditty, “Fit As A Fiddle”, before going on to dazzle us time and again with his contributions to the sumptuous ballads, “You Stepped Out Of A Dream” and “You Were Meant For Me”, before going big post intermission being the cardinal figure in “Broadway Melody”. Then there’s the dynamic titular composition which comes at the finish of Act One, where he truly brings it home–dancing and ‘Singin’ In The Rain” (even its ride-out–in which he valiantly leaps onto a nearby light pole à la “Gene Kelly” is sure to bring a few jolts of glee and satisfaction to anyone watching.) Kimberly Immanuel also exhibits a wholesome brand of pure likability as “Kathy Selden”. In addition, she can boast a lovely voice, which she handily deploys in her silky and soulful rendition of “Lucky Star”–making it one of the first act’s genuine highlights in a show loaded with them. Dance-wise, Emmanuel also more than holds up her ends of such bubbly little treasures as “All I Do Is Dream Of You” and “Good Morning”. Later, “Kathy” is discovered at the microphone of a recording booth essentially ‘over dubbing’ “Lina’s” hard-on-the-ears version of ‘Would You”, which she immediately follows up with her reprise. The face splashed up on the back scrim may still be “Lina’s” but it’s Ms. Emmanuel’s crisp and melodious rendition that rightfully takes center stage! As a duo, Starr and Emmanuel delight with their shared chanson (–one of several they are allocated–) the splendidly romantic, “You Were Meant For Me”. Sung atop a ladder, it both lives up to and surpasses any expectations one might have upon recalling it from the movie, while exceptionally praiseworthy as well is their fantastic final reprise of “Lucky Star”—both rank as a bona-fide triumph for each performer!
Brandon Burks takes a more level-headed and logical approach to his role as “Cosmo Brown”, bringing a novel touch of realism to the habitually ‘over the top’ puns and gag-lines he’s given. In doing so, he marvelously makes this character wholly his own concoction. Although he has a bounty of brilliant opportunities to astonish us all through the proceedings, anyone who recalls Donald O’Connor’s quintessential bit of buffoonery, knows that “Cosmo’s” shining moment is in “Make ‘Em Laugh”. Don’t expect a verbatim, step-by-step re-creation of O’Connor’s manic backflips against the back-wall or getting ‘fresh’ with a conveniently placed dress-dummy though; given Brandon smoother, simpler tact, the number comes refreshingly alive with new comic possibilities (just seeing his inspired clowning with a Tutu is arguably a significant improvement on the original!) Either way, it’s still a vigorous crowd-pleaser regardless. Burks also shows off his superior vocal talents again, with the opening stanzas of Act Two’s “huge production extravaganza”, “Broadway Melody”. Meanwhile, Sara King practically steals the show (in all the most priceless and hilarious ways) as “Lina Lamont”, with her take being something akin to a Bleach-Blonde “Betty Boop” with a vicious streak wider than the Grand Canyon! her voice may be screechy and shrill, but she gets quite a few of the show’s choicest and most side-splitting lines! Her ‘diction lesson’ is a comedic high point as she vacuously tries to wrap her tonsils around the line “I keeeen’t stan’ um’!” Her second act lament, “What’s Wrong With Me” (written just for the stage adaptation,) also affirms that our lass, “Lina” might not sing very pretty, but she can sing pretty loud as she whines over the fact that “Don” would dare throw her aside for a ‘little nobody’ like Kathy. (Ironically, this vocal illusion serves as a tremendous compliment to King’s true singing capabilities that she can ‘burlesque’ this so laudably.) An unforgettable highlight of the entire show, it also gives rise to some first-rate comic ‘business’, like how she ‘coyly’ cuddles up to one of “Don’s’ coats even as she’s berating him.
Moreover, one of the more entertaining aspects of this show are the numerous supporting characters who, while maybe not in the spot-light so long, nonetheless superbly sparkle while they’re in it. These include Peter Van Norden’s slightly bemused slant on Studio Head, “R. F. Simpson”—a man, not as on top of things as he’d have you believe (consider for instance, how all of the studio-saving ideas that come his way, decidedly come from someone else—not least of which being the concluding dénouement which puts “Lina” in her proper place once and for all!) Candace J. Washington also delivers scintillating support as Lina’s BFF and Movie-land “Zip Girl”, “Zelda Zanger”. The ultimate “Flapper”, she has exhilaratingly been given more to do in this production than Rita Moreno (who originated the role) was given in the iconic film (plus what clothes she gets to wear—WOW!) Meanwhile, Adam Lendorman surprisingly gets to prove his terpsichorean ‘chops’ as Don’s “Diction Coach”—taking an active dance part in “Moses Supposes”, while Bruce Merkle comparably demonstrates his stately song styling flair as the dashing “Show Tenor” at the center of “Beautiful Girl”. Featured Danseur Breanne Wilson also makes her effervescent mark as the “Femme Fatale” in the green silk-dress at the start of the extended ballet-infused dance portion of “Broadway Melody”.
Technically speaking, the vibrant costumes by Shon LeBlanc (accented by the period wigs and makeup designs by E.B. Bohks) are worthy of a standing ovation in their own right! (Just expect to see a whole lot of glitter and lamé!) Lina’s turquois “Shift Dress”–contrasted against the Fiery-Red silky frock her best gal-pal “Zelda” sports, not to mention the vivacious attire all of the dancers are garbed in for “The Broadway Melody”, absolutely raise the bar for what imaginative costumes can be (–and this isn’t even counting the opulent eighteenth century ‘wardrobe’ seen in the “Dueling/Dancing Cavalier” sections!) Furthermore, John Iacovelli’s Scenic Designs are themselves a nifty mix of the expected and the unexpected, starting with an expansive ‘corrugated metal’ border that surrounds the entire stage recalling a motion-picture studio ‘soundstage’ (—ever reminding us where we are and what we’re involved with.) Winking at key moments in the film, they also establish attitude and feel that fully transcends the source material. In several cases, he relies on projections to augment more ‘substantive’ scenery, and this too proves particularly efficacious. Then again, in this show, it’s often hard to separate the projection effects from the larger lighting effects as they each work so meticulously in unison; however, the Lighting Designs by Steven Young do have a few really ‘stand-apart’ occasions–like the glorious hues that light up the stage at the height of “Broadway Melody”, or the ‘shocking’ red incandescence that ‘colors’ the atmosphere at Boss R.F. Simpson’s studio party early in the show. Other times, it ‘bends’ wonderfully to support David Murakami’s fore-mentioned Projections, which have also placed him in charge of devising all of the ‘old-timey’ celluloid mock-ups seen throughout, and he definitely has them down to a T (–for Terrific!)
These ‘April Showers’ bring a torrent of unparalleled entertainment! Having ‘previewed’ on Friday, April 19th, 2019, “Singin’ In The Rain” officially opened on Saturday, April 20th , where it will run through Sunday, May 12, 2019 at “The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts”, located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada California. Showtimes are Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7:30 PM; Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday matinées at 2:00 PM. There will be an Open-Captioned performance on Saturday, May 4th, at 2:00 PM and an ASL interpreted performance on Saturday, May 11th, at 2:00 PM. “Talkback” sessions with the cast and creative team will be held after the curtain-calls on Wednesday, May 8th, 2019. Tickets for this engagement may be purchased at “The La Mirada Theatre’s” website located at: www.lamiradatheatre.com , or via phone by calling “The La Mirada Theatre” Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 (Student and Group discounts are also available, with special discounted “Student Rush” tickets available for the first 15 performances.)
Production Stills By: Austin Bauman, Courtesy Of Demand PR (www.demandpr.com) And McCoy-Rigby Entertainment; Special Thanks To David Elzer At Demand PR, Tom McCoy, Cathy Rigby, Spencer Liff, Keith Harrison & To The Cast & Crew Of “The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts” & McCoy-Rigby Entertainment’s 2019 Production Of “Singin’ In The Rain” For Making This Story Possible.