Musical theater reaches new heights with Singin’ In The Rain, a show that ironically has its roots not on Broadway but in Hollywood. The original 1952 musical comedy is arguably one of the best films of the genre, if not the best. With Gene Kelly. Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor buoying the sparse script with phenomenal acting, song and dance, it’s no wonder that it took over 30 years before anyone attempted to recreate that screen magic on the live stage.
Singin’ In The Rain tells the story of a fictional 1920s Hollywood matinee idol who faces a rocky transition from silent films to “talkies”. (Not everyone from that era made the transition successfully.) Formerly cast in serious heroic roles, a la Rudolph Valentino, our hero learns — with the help of two talented accomplices — that the hot trend is in lavish musicals. The threesome aims to capitalize on that trend by creating their own Hollywood extravaganza.
So how does Singin’ In The Rain fare 70 years later on the Mainstage of the Phoenix Theatre Company? Was the magic recaptured? Let’s find out!
First off, lead players Elyssa Blonder (as perky ingenue, Kathy Selden), Michael Starr (as Hollywood heartthrob, Don Lockwood) and Blake Patrick Spellacy (as versatile funnyman, Cosmo Brown) literally channel their respective movie counterparts, the above-mentioned Reynolds, Kelly and O’Connor. These are not imitators; these are embodiments!
Blonder’s radiant, joyful smile and buoyant personality exude the unbridled optimism of a Broadway-bound star in the making. Starr’s easy style and confident swagger reflect the devil-may-care attitude of an accomplished showman thrust into the limelight based on his looks alone. Spellacy pulls off one of the coolest renditions of a second banana jovially embracing his anonymity at the cost of public adulation.
Liurking outside the circle of this close-knit trio is their nemesis, Lina Lamont, played by Emily Mohney (recently of “Steel Magnolias”, on the same stage). This is a sharp departure from her previous role as the frail but hopeful bride-to-be, Shelby Eatenton Latcherie. Mohney holds nothing back as the glamorous queen of the silent screen who refuses to acquiesce to newcomer Selden’s superior vocal talents.
Singin’ In The Rain includes a lively ensemble of well-practiced dancers. Whereas you would expect a chorus line to rehearse a single set of routines for months before perfecting them, our friends at The Phoenix Theatre Company perform multiple shows continuously throughout the show season. And yet the most intricate choreography is executed flawlessly and with energy and enthusiasm. Authentic colorful period costumes and hairdos transport us back into the Roaring Twenties. Elaborate Busby Berkeley style choreography and fast-paced, intricate tap dance numbers root us in the beginnings of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Large-screen projections of Lockwood/Lamont silent films draw sharp contrast to the disruptive technology that merged picture with sound, forever changing the way people experience motion pictures.
Not surprisingly, the standout performances of the night turn out to be renditions of several memorable scenes from the film; scenes that will forever live in the annals of musical comedy history. Blake Patrick Spellacy pays tribute to the physical comedy of Donald O’Connor, executing a hilarious array of challenging pratfalls and mime interspersed with a raucous rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh”. Michael Starr does a playful and carefree “wet shoe” while serenading drenched passersby with the title song, “Singin’ In The Rain”. And yes folks, it rains real water on the stage!
Two more standouts must be mentioned. Spellacy and Starr are joined by Elyssa Blonder in “Good Morning”, a reinvigorating song and dance prompted by creative brainstorming that lasts past midnight into the following day. The trio has just come up with a brilliant plan to turn Lockwood’s silent film into a talkie. Here is where we see the electric synergy that melds the three characters together as a force to be reckoned with. Which brings us back to that opposing force, Lina Lamont. Emily Mohney’s only solo number, “What’s Wrong With Me”, makes it obvious that Lamont is truly tonedeaf to her own screechy voice. At the same time, she’s a strong and independent woman who cannot be intimidated. Mohney’s take on this scheming antagonist briefly reveals a sympathetic character who reminds us that we’re all slaves to the opinions of others. Lamont will have none of it, and Mohney sells it like the pro she is.
This ambitious production could only have been pulled off by a dedicated cast of professionals who obviously love what they do, backed by an outstanding orchestra, authentic production design, and a Director who has a deep respect for the underlying work of the original screen production.