1920s matinee idol Don Lockwood is once again “walkin’ down the lane with a happy refrain” as the Norris Center For The Performing Arts presents the live stage adaptation of the MGM musical Singin’ In The Rain in an all-around terrific production sure to delight theater and movie buffs of all ages.


The year is 1927, and with the release of Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, Hollywood studios are racing to join the talking pictures bandwagon. Movie star Don and his perennial leading lady Lina Lamont are informed by studio bigwig R.F. Simpson that they must reshoot their latest silent movie as a talkie, a piece of cake for 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 angelic singing voice gives Cosmo Brown, Don’s best friend and former vaudeville partner, a brilliant idea. Kathy should overdub all of Lina’s songs and dialog! Naturally, complications ensue.

Under the topnotch direction of James W. Gruessing, Jr., the 1950 MGM classic is faithfully recreated up-close-and-personal, from Don and Cosmo’s vaudevillian “Fit As A Fiddle,” to Kathy popping out of a birthday cake in “All I Do Is Dream Of You,” to the romantic “You Stepped Out Of A Dream.”

Norris favorite Wesley Alfvin gets the plum role of Don, and though the talented triple-threat comes across a tad younger than the part is usually played, he proves himself a likable leading man and one heck of a hoofer, particularly in the title song, which has Alfvin giving Gene Kelly a run for his money as raindrops quite literally soak him to the skin. Savannah Ackerman has just the right perkiness to recreate Debbie Reynolds’ classic role, and she too sings and dances as befits a first-rate musical theater leading lady. As Lockwood sidekick Cosmo, Sam Cavanaugh takes the most colorful of the three leading roles (Donald O’Connor in the original) and makes it very much his own, particularly in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which has an inspired Cavanaugh running into sofas, making out with a headless dummy, and taking pratfalls galore.

Other memorable highlights include the tongue-twisting “Moses Supposes,” delightfully performed by Alfvin and Cavanaugh, “Good Morning,” which has the duo joined by Ackerman in the bouncy song-and-dance number which ends with its classic flip-over-the-sofa finale, and of course the Act One closer “Singin’ In The Rain.”

Talented choreographer Ann Myers has taken the original MGM steps as inspiration for the abovementioned production numbers, however she follows Twyla Tharp’s example (Tharp choreographed Singin’ In The Rain’s 1985 Broadway premiere) for the “Broadway Melody” Ballet and choreographs it from scratch—so splendily that only the most diehard movie buffs will notice the absence of “The Girl In The Green Dress” (Cyd Charisse in the film).

Besides her choreographic duties, Myers gets to play one of the greatest “dumb blonde” roles ever written, the glamorous but bubble-headed Lina Lamont. Fresh from her hilariously over-the-top stepsister in Rodgers And Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Myers does her best work yet as Lina, screeching like a cat being skinned and stealing every scene she’s in, particularly in Lina’s lament “What’s Wrong With Me?”, a show-stooper not in the original film..

The reliable Jeannine Barba get a pair of plum roles, gossip columnist Dora Bailey and vocal coach Miss Dinsmore, the latter of whom struggles in vain to get Lina to speak like a lady. (“No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, round tones.”) Karl Jaecke makes the most of his cameo as the coach assigned to teach diction to Don and Cosmo. (“Moses supposes his toeses are roses. But Moses supposes erroneously.”) Bruce Schechter channels Louis B. Mayer as studio head R. F. Simpson, and Jef Canter does solid work as movie director Roscoe Dexter.

Completing the splendid supporting cast are Tomasina Abate (Olga Mara), Michelle Akeley (Card Girl), Archer Alstaetter (First Director), Jordan Arana (Sound Engineer), Caitlin Beitel (Zelda Zanders), Liz Cantine (Mrs. Simpson), Robert Glen Decker (Rod), Ashley Eskew (Mary Margaret), Brandon Halvorsen (Young Don), Joseph Hetzer (Young Cosmo), David Laffey (Sid), Erik Staalberg (Sam), and Jessica Taylor (Stripper). Cantine, Halvorsen, and Hetzer in particular prove that there is no age limit to sensational dancing.

Sets, provided by Candlelight Pavilion and costumes, provided by Cabrillo Music Theatre, give the Norris production a highly professional look, and musical direction by Daniel Thomas makes the show sound just as great. In fact, all that’s missing from this production is a live orchestra, though its absence is understandable considering budget limitations on what must already be a pricey undertaking for the Norris. As always, Christina L. Munich’s lighting design and Julie Ferrin’s sound design are first rate. Chris Warren Murry is stage manager.

If the cheers that greeted Singin’ In The Rain’s opening night are any indication, audiences down Palos Verdes way will be lining up in droves to for tickets to this thoroughly entertaining musical treat.

Norris Center For The Performing Arts, 27570 Crossfield Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.
–Steven Stanley
September 24, 2010
Photos: Ed Krieger

Comments are closed.