Normally, when a musical is performed on stage, someone raises the dreaded topic of… the movie. There have been more bad movies made of great musicals than can be recounted here, or almost anywhere; "Evita" is hardly the only one. And then there are ones that might be fine if the original play didn't exist, and we could be talking about "Chicago" – if only it hadn't also been miscast. Less common is the situation in which a movie, a musical one at that, comes first, and then the question becomes, does the play live up to the expectations that Hollywood gave us? The stage version of "Gigi", one of this reviewer's favorite movies, is long and well forgotten; "Victor/Victoria" is not the longest-running musical Broadway has seen, either.
And then there's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. The screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with its justly famous score by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, has been performed as a play many times – and like other movies-turned-theatre, it is usually evaluated by some by how successfully it recalls the movie to the audience. At the hands of, and with the new choreography of, Fulton Artistic Director Marc Robin, however, the production is somewhat fresher than the frequent slavish copying of the film (usually less than fully successfully) by less experienced – or brave – directors.
In-house-designed new choreography isn't the only Fulton innovation for this production. All the Monumental Pictures movie footage shown on stage as part of the story was produced for the show at the Fulton by its staff, and its music director, Aaron McAllister, composed and orchestrated all of the music for the silent movie clips. What in most shows is backed up by a pianist with a copy of "Charge of the Ulands" handy is here shown with real orchestration, and the production is the richer for it. As an additional note, the mock Monumental Pictures Lockwood-Lamont films are splendidly done and the theatre's video staff deserves credit for producing some excellent footage. As the production will be going to Florida from here, one hopes that the film footage will go with it. These video bits deserve to be seen.
Curt Dale Clark has performed the star turn as Don Lockwood, Gene Kelly's lead character, numerous times before. He is charming, disarming, and a fine dancer, though his character certainly isn't terribly deep – but then, Don Lockwood is not exactly a rocket scientist; he's an actor, or to be precise, a silent movie mime, who's pantomimed in exaggeration at the side of the lovely Lina Lamont (an engaging Emily Stockdale, straining her naturally lovely voice to produce Lamont's far less than dulcet tones) for quite some time to the delight of movie audiences and Lina Lamont alike. But Lockwood started out as a dancer/singer at the side of his buddy and now studio pianist, CosMo Brown (played delightfully by the charming Brian Shepard), and he's chafing at the bit for something better, despite the publicity (and Lina Lamont imagined) romance parroted all over the radio by Hollywood reporter Dora Bailey (an energetic and frenetic Charis Leos, last seen here as Electra in "Gypsy").
"Better" comes in the form of Kathy Seldon (Lauren Blackman), who's lovely, a fine singer, and aching to be a dramatic actress on stage. Aside from the rocky start to her romance with Lockwood, additionally complicated by Lamont's frenetic jealousy, Kathy is prepared for something Lockwood doesn't expect and Lamont can't handle – talking pictures.
SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is at its heart a lightweight musical, but it illustrates some home truths about Hollywood's introduction of the talkies – the studios who thought it was a gimmick destined to disappear, and so disappeared themselves; the performers whose careers were destroyed by their lack of voice; and the belief of the public, in the days of the studio system, in the PR put out by studios and the reporters who worked with them. Even Kathy Seldon, at the studio, believes in the Lockwood-Lamont romance at first; Lina even believes her own press. The profusion of diction coaches (Charis Leos in a second, very funny role, and Steven Charles Peterson, also in a dual role) in the show was nothing but brutal reality at the time, as careers were wrecked and others emerged in the shadow of sound. In the midst of the chaos, David Girolmo shines as studio head R.F. Simpson, who is trying to figure out how to do what it takes to compete with Warner Brothers.