The 1952 MGM Musical classic Singin’ In The Rain gives Downey Civic Light Opera its best production since 2009’s My Fair Lady, one that judging from the enthusiastic reaction of Friday’s Opening Night audience could well prove DLCO’s biggest hit in as many years.

For longtime Downey regulars well into their senior years, there’s hardly a title more likely to bring back memories of their teens and twenties than Singin’ In The Rain.  Add to that the movie’s repeated TV showings and its easy availability on DVD and the younger crowd may well find themselves equally eager to see a show that’s hardly aged a year in the nearly six decades since it first hit the nation’s movie screens.

For the few out there who’ve never seen either Singin’ In The Rain The Movie or The Musical, here’s the plot in brief:

Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (the Brangelina of the 1920s) 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 the uniquely talented Marsha Moode waving her directorial wand, the 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.”

Multi-talented Mishi Schueller gets the plum role of Don, and gives the silent movie star with an urge to dance boy-next-door charm and some of the sharpest moves this side of Gene Kelly, never more so than when dancing the iconic title song (and getting wet in the process). Downey CLO favorite Andrea Dodson does her best work in her best role yet, playing Cathy with perkiness and sass, singing like a proverbial angel, and dancing with finesse. As Lockwood sidekick Cosmo, Arthur D. Johansen does terrific fancy footwork, particularly in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which has the likeable DCLO newcomer running into sofas, making out with a headless dummy, and taking pratfalls galore.

Other memorable highlights include the tongue-twisting “Moses Supposes,” hilariously performed by Schueller and Johansen, “Good Morning,” which has the duo joined by Dodson 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.”

The tiptop team of choreographer Janet Renslow and assistant choreographer Nathan Wise recreate the dance steps so closely associated with the MGM classic that to tamper with them would border on sacrilege, though a spectacular “Broadway Melody” Ballet does offer them opportunities to strut their imaginative stuff. Making Renslow and Wise’s task all the easier is the best dance ensemble of any DCLO show I’ve reviewed, with Denai Lovrein a splendid stand-in for Cyd Charisse as The Girl In The Green Dress. (It’s of particular interest to see how the Downey troupe manage to recreate movie sequences designed to take advantage of the fact that some things are possible only on film—and then transfer them to the medium of stage.)

As the glamorous but bubble-headed Lina Lamont, the supremely versatile Charlotte Carpenter takes one of the greatest “dumb blonde” roles ever written and makes it indelibly her own, never more so than in the scene-stealing showcase solo “What’s Wrong With Me?”

Marvelous Marsha Meyers channels Louella and Hedda to perfection as turbaned, bejewelled gossip columnist Dora Bailey and has nearly as much fun as vocal coach Miss Dinsmore, who struggles in vain to get Lina to speak like a lady. (“No, no, no Miss Lamont, Round tones, r-r-round tones.”) Michael McGreal is very funny as his cameo as Edgar, the coach assigned to teach diction to Don and Cosmo. (“Moses supposes his toeses are roses. But Moses supposes erroneously.”) William T. Lewis takes the role of studio head R.F. Simpson and makes it one of the evening’s standouts and Karl Schott makes the very most of movie director Roscoe Dexter.

Cameo roles are nimbly executed by Steven Chavarria (Rod), Christopher Curry (John), Greg Hardash (Sam), Valerie Mazon (Young Cosmo), Randy Long (J. Cumbefland Spendrill III), Brooke Johnson (Young Don), Calista Ruis (Mabel), and Alilson Schiller (Louise).

Dancing in terrific precision are Angela Asch, Krystal J. Combs, Arianna Hyatt, Sharon Jewell (Mrs. R.F. Simpson), Chloe Lake, Anna Lamonica, Lori Lewis (Olga Mara), Aimee Lohman, Shelby Monson, Jayson Puls (Baron/Policeman), Laura Rensing, Nicole Stier (Mary Margaret), Andrew Swailes (Dashe La Rue), Eric W. Taylor, Timothy Valencia. The oh-so-able ensemble is completed by William Crisp , Kimberly Himelman, Kiersten Kanaster, Jordyn Kazaroff, Amanda Knight, Kelly O’Shea, Eric A. Peterson, Brittany Rodin, Abbie Rosenthal, Amanda Walter, Jayson Ziegenhagen, and a trio of children—Caire Bowen, Grace Bowen, Devon Cornair.

Jimmy Vann and the Downey Civic Light Opera Orchestra provide fine musical backup, with musicians and vocalists expertly mixed. A bevy of gorgeous costumes and a Technicolor lighting design make the production at times quite a visual treat. Ingenious use of the Downey Theatre’s two side stages not only gives this Singin’ In The Rain a unique look, but speeds up considerably the show’s many scene changes. Black and white video footage (and some inspired mugging from Schueller and Carpenter) make for some hilarious pseudo-silent movie magic.

Downey Civic Light Opera’s two remaining offerings are likely to resonate equally well with subscribers and DCLO fans—the Cole Porter revue Red, Hot, And Cole, with its bevy of Porter hits from the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, and a first time ever DCLO staging of The Pajama Game, which opened on Broadway only two years after Singin’ In The Rain hit the movie screens.

Meanwhile under sunny autumn skies, Singin’ In The Rain will be entertaining and delighting Downey audiences through October 16.

Downey Theatre, 8435 E. Firestone Blvd., Downey.

–Steven Stanley
September 20, 2011

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