The customary path for a musical to follow is the one from stage to screen, the most recent example being Mamma Mia, in movie theaters (and live on Broadway) even as I write this. Far less usual is seeing an original movie musical adapted for the stage, yet just as MTW’s The Wizard Of Oz closes, Singin’ In The Rain opens at Cabrillo Music Theatre, a veritable bonanza for lovers of MGM musicals of Hollywood’s golden age.

Unusual as it may be, it’s not at all surprising that these two movie classics made the trip from screen to stage. Singin’ In The Rain and The Wizard Of Oz are IMDb’s #1 and #2 highest rated Hollywood musicals ever, and much of the fun in seeing Wizard, and now Singin’, is to relive memorable movie moments performed live by some of Southern California musical theater’s finest talents.

Gene Kelly’s shoes are big ones to fill, but if anyone can fill them, it’s Broadway veteran and Southland superstar David Engel, who must hold some kind of record for his 5 Ovation Award wins. Engel’s triple threat star turns in Crazy For You, Never Gonna Dance, White Christmas, and countless others make him the perfect choice to sing and dance (in the rain) the role of Don Lockwood, silent movie idol making the transition to the talkies as The Dancing Cavalier.

With Engel in the lead, performing double duty here as choreographer, it’s pure pleasure to sit back, relax, and enjoy the “That’s Entertainment” that is Singin’ In The Rain (the stage musical). That Engel is superbly supported by Randy Rogel as Cosmo (Donald O’Connor in the movie), Shanon Mari Mills as Kathy (Debbie Reynolds when she was 20), and Melissa Fahn as Lina (Jean Hagen’s most remembered film role) is icing on an exceedingly scrumptious cake.

For the few out there who’ve never seen Singin’ In The Rain (the movie), here’s the plot in brief:

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (the Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of their day) are told they must make the transition from silent films to talkies, a piece of cake for matinee idol Don but not such a breeze for Lina, cursed with the voice of a banshee crossed with Betty Boop. Enter pert and pretty aspiring thespian Kathy Seldon, whose voice of an angel gives Cosmo Brown, Don’s best friend and former vaudeville partner, a brilliant idea. Kathy should overdub all of Lina’s songs and dialog! Complications ensue.

With director extraordinaire Larry Raben at the helm of the CMT production, each and every beloved scene (and musical number) of the MGM classic is lovingly recreated on the huge Fred Kavli stage, from Don and Cosmo’s vaudevillian “Fit As A Fiddle,” to Kathy’s popping out of the birthday cake in “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” to the romantic “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.”

Even more memorable are “Make ‘Em Laugh” (featuring a brilliantly slapstick Rogel running into sofas, making out with a headless dummy, and literally climbing up walls), the tongue-twisting “Moses Supposes” (with the tour de force tap pairing of Engel and Rogel), “Good Morning” (with Mills making the tap duo a trio), and arguably the most famous movie dance sequence ever, “Singin’ In The Rain,” performed here with real water pouring down like raindrops on Engel, giving Gene Kelly a real run for his money.

Act 2 is highlighted by the legendary “Broadway Melody” Ballet, with assistant choreographer Linda Neel flawless as “The Girl In The Green Dress” (Cyd Charisse in the movie), a number re-choreographed by Twyla Tharp for Singin’ In The Rain’s 1985 Broadway premiere. Here, CMT was given permission for Engel to recreate the film’s original choreography (as he does in the show’s other classic numbers) and the results are stunning.

Supporting the brilliant Engel is a cast which could not be better, beginning with song and dance comedian Rogel, whose performance as Cosmo is a loving (and delightful) homage to Donald O’Connor. Mills, who’s been seen recently in a number of ensemble roles including Rocky’s crush in Mask, takes center stage here in a perky, charming performance that should lead to many more starring roles. Fahn, an MTG gem, steals every scene she’s in as the Hollywood diva with a voice like screeching gears, and milks every laugh out of “What’s Wrong With Me?” (added for the stage version).

Farley Cadena is a hilarious Miss Dinsmore (Kathleen Freeman in the movie) who struggles in vain to get Lina to speak like a lady. (“No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, round tones.”) Gene Bernath is equally funny as her male equivalent, assigned to teach diction to Don and Cosmo. (“Moses supposes his toeses are roses. But Moses supposes erroneously.”) Rita Tarin lovingly channels the movie’s Madge Blake as gossip columnist Dora Bailey. Gary Gordon does his reliably solid work as studio head R. F. Simpson, as does Terry Fishman as movie director Roscoe Dexter.

As usual, CMT provides what Broadway can’t. A cast of thousands! Well, not quite thousands, but a cast of 36* is unheard of these days on the Great White Way. Not only that, but these local performers are sensational, and proof that if you want to find talent, Southern California’s the place.

Singin’ In The Rain also boasts a 17-piece orchestra under the assured direction of Alby Potts, excellent sets originally built for the Papermill Playhouse, the Hollywonderful lighting of Jean-Yves Tessier, and a movie star-ready wardrobe supervised by Christine Gibson. Once again, CMT’s sound (designed by Jonathan Burke) is quite possibly the best of all the SoCal CLOs.

Don’t miss Cabrillo’s A+ production of Singin’ In The Rain. You’ll leave the theater wishing for a downpour, just so that you too can go singin’, and dancin’ in the rain!

*Rocky Lynch (Young Dan), Jacob Thomas (Young Cosmo), Neal Bakke (Production Tenor), Chris Acuff, Kasey Alfonso, Layne Baker, Christopher Bray, Cory Bretsch, Amanda Brown, dance captain Drew D’Andrea, Jasmine Ejan, Jennifer Foster, Brandon Heitkamp, Erik Kline, Holly Long, Lindsay McDonald, Ann Myers as Zelda, Carly Pippin, Chris Ramirez as Rod, Jonalyn Saxer, Deborah Shulman, Richard Stores as Sid Phillips, Marni Zaifert, and children’s ensemble members Delaney Miner, Riley Miner, and Sami Staitman.

Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks.

–Steven Stanley
July 27, 2008
Photos: Ed Krieger

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