Summer skies will likely be sunny throughout July, but Angelinos will be Singin’ In The Rain as Long Beach’s Musical Theatre West debuts its spectacular revival of the Broadway stage adaptation of the 1952 MGM classic, one that blows its predecessors right out of the water.
Golden Era Hollywood movie buffs know the story.
Monumental Pictures studio head R.F. Simpson informs 1920s movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont that the onscreen couple will soon be making the transition from silent films to talkies, a piece of cake for vocally-blessed 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 angelic soprano gives Cosmo Brown, Don’s former vaudeville partner and lifelong best friend, a brilliant idea. Kathy should secretly overdub all of Lina’s songs and dialog.
Singin’ In The Rain’s 1985 Broadway adaptation* replicates the MGM smash about as closely as a stage version can adhere to a movie original, 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.”
Other iconic musical numbers making the screen-to-stage transition include Cosmo’s “Make ‘Em Laugh,” which has Don’s second banana running into sofas, making out with a headless dummy, and taking pratfalls galore, and “Good Morning,” the bouncy song-and-dance number which ends with its classic flip-over-the-sofa finale.
And it wouldn’t be Singin’ In The Rain without Don Lockwood singin’ and dancin’ the iconic title song–and gettin’ soaked to the skin in the process. (Thank goodness the stage show has an intermission for Don to dry off!)
Director-choreographer Jon Engstrom proves the ideal choice to recreate MGM movie magic for MTW, adding plenty of his own inspired touches along the way.
In fact, just about the only time this latest Singin’ veers significantly from the movie original is in the Act Two showstopper “Broadway Melody,” which tap master Engstrom has staged 42nd Street-style for no other reason than to give audiences a couple dozen taptastic dancers working their fleet-footed, precision-synced magic on a bigger-than-Broadway stage.
A dazzling Leigh Wakeford once again proves himself L.A. musical theater’s go-to triple-threat as Don, Justin Michael Wilcox steals scenes left and right as an irrepressible, irresistible Cosmo, rising star Natalie MacDonald makes for an absolutely enchanting Kathy, and Rebecca Ann Johnson hits a comedic bulls-eye even without Lina’s showcase number “What’s Wrong With Me?” added after the original Broadway run.
Jeff Austin, Steve Owsley, and James Stellos score as studio head R.F. Simpson, silent film director Roscoe Dexter, and Edgar, the coach assigned to teach diction to Don and Cosmo. (“Moses supposes his toeses are roses. But Moses supposes erroneously.”)
Most memorable of all among featured players is Alison England, who takes the turbaned, bejewelled gossip columnist Dora Bailey and turns her into a woman possessed … by her love for Hollywood stars, then returns for even more 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.”)
Child performers Wyatt Larrabee and Barrett Figueroa do some fab footwork of their own as Young Don and Young Cosmo.
As for ensemble members Juan Caballer, Joel Chambers, Ryan Chlanda, Rachel Davis, Nick Gardner, dance captain/assistant to choreographer Hector Guerrero (Sid Phillips), Annie Hinskton, Sharon Jewell, Ashley Ruth Jones, Brandi Lacy (Flirting Girl), April Lovejoy, Peter Marinaro (Rod), Shelby Monson, Theresa Murray (Vaudeville Showgirl), Micah Nameroff, Gabriel Navarro, Ariel Samuels, Tara Shoemaker, Jennifer Simpson (Stripper), Lance Smith (Production Tenor), Rodrigo Varandas (Sound Engineer), and Susanna Vaughan, though many are just out of college, each displays song-and-dance gifts galore. (Smith’s sublime tenor in “Beautiful Girl ” merits added snaps.)
If MTW’s Singin’ In The Rain is by far the most sensational looking of the five I’ve seen (which it is), much of the credit goes to scenic designer Michael Anania’s gorgeous Broadway-scale sets (provided by 5th Avenue Theatre), Karen St. Pierre’s fabulous costumes (courtesy of Cabrillo Music Theatre), Dan Weingarten’s striking lighting, Anthony Gagliardi’s spiffy wigs, and Anna Mantz’s pitch-perfect properties.
Black and white video footage (and some inspired mugging from Wakeford and Johnson) make for some hilarious pseudo-silent movie magic as well.
Audio Production Geeks, LLC’s crystal-clear sound design turns the MTW orchestra (under the baton of musical director John Glaudini) into the next best thing to the legendary 128-Piece MGM Orchestra.
Kevin Clowes is technical director. Kelly Marie Pate is stage manager and Elle Aghabala assistant stage manager.
Whether or not you’ve seen Singin’ In The Rain (movie or stage adaptation) before, you won’t want to miss it at Musical Theatre West.
This is as close to a Broadway revival as regional musical theater gets.
*Music by Nacio Herb Brown, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Musical Theatre West, Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach.
July 11, 2105
Photos: Caught in the Moment Photography