april 2019 | Volume 178
Production video clip | Photos: Tim Matheson.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Royal City Musical Theatre
Massey Theatre, New Westminster
www.royalcitymusicaltheatre.com or 604-521-5050
If not the best ever movie musical, Singin’ in the Rain is for me, at least, the most memorable. Its iconic moment, of course, is Gene Kelly swinging on a lamppost, umbrella in hand, singing the title song in the rain. The best scene is Donald O’Connor’s comic tour de force, “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
In Valerie Easton’s Royal City Musical Theatre production, the lamppost proves a little too shaky for Don Lockwood (Andrew Cohen) to do the full swing thing. And try as he might, Blake Sartin’s energetic Cosmo Brown just doesn’t generate the kinds of laughs registered by O’Connor’s once-in-a-lifetime tear-down-the-house number. The RCMT scene does include one of O’Connor’s dance-up-the-wall backflips, though done by an actor other than Sartin.
It’s hardly fair to ask a stage play to measure up to some of the best musical performances ever on screen, but RCMT’s annual musicals, especially when directed by the marvelous Ms. Easton, have set a substantial bar. Even if it misses a few high notes, this Singin’ in the Rain hits the mark. It’s a great evening of musical entertainment highlighted by a storm of tap dancing.
The very funny plot involves the transition in Hollywood from silent film to talkies. Hollywood royalty Lockwood and Lina Lamont (Robyn Wallis) stars in a series of ludicrous silent historical romances. But when The Jazz Singer proves a huge success in 1927, the head of Monumental Studios, R.F. Simpson (David Cotton), decides to turn their latest silent film in progress, The Dueling Cavalier, into a musical talkie.
Trouble is, Lamont can’t sing. And she can barely talk. Her ridiculously squeaky Brooklyn-accent, hardly appropriate for 18th century costume drama, stars in the play’s funniest scene, Lina’s elocution lesson with Miss Dinsmore (Erin Jeffery). Dinsmore models the line, “I cahn’t stahnd him,” as Lina repeatedly squawks, “Eye cyan’t styand him!”
Chorus girl Kathy Selden (Tessa Trach) comes to the rescue. Don and Cosmo convince R.F. to have Kathy lip-synch Lina’s on-screen dialogue and songs. Diva that she is, and jealous of Don’s attentions to Kathy, Lina will have to be kept in the dark about the strategy. Don and Kathy’s budding romance will have some very bumpy moments.
Everything works out, of course, after some funny missteps, a few hissy fits and a series of hilarious film clips of Don and Lina at work. And meanwhile, there’s singin’ and dancin’ galore.
Cohen is quick and graceful for a big man, and Don’s duets with Sartin’s Cosmo, especially “Moses Supposes,” are tap highlights. The two men team up with Trach’s Kathy for the show’s best number, “Good Morning,” featuring three strong voices and terrific dancing.
Kathy and the female chorus (the Coconut Grove Girls) are featured in an excellent dance number, “All I Do Is Dream of You,” and the full chorus in this cast of 30 stars in the great second act production numbers, “Broadway Melody” with a beautiful dance solo by Jacq Smith, and the “Singin’ in the Rain” finale.
The principals are all very good. Cohen makes Don solid and likeable while Sartin does a nice job as wiseguy sidekick Cosmo. Trach’s elegant Kathy charms, and Wallis dazzles as the classic dumb blonde (ouch, those misogynist stereotypes!).
RCMT shows always feature high-end production values and this is no exception. Vancouver’s best choreographer, Easton gives her talented tappers lots of good-looking moves. The women’s costumes by Christopher David Gauthier are gorgeous, and Brian Ball’s monumental set is handsome and functional.
Credit David Brigden for the highly professional film segments. James Bryson, musical director of every RCMT show in its 30-year history, gets the full Broadway musical quality sound from his 18-piece orchestra.
Despite a few dull, old-fashioned songs, Singin’ in the Rain still feels as fresh and lively as it must have when it first hit the screen in the 1950s. This fine production won’t make you forget the movie but it might make you want to dredge it up from Netflix or wherever it lives now.
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