BWW Review: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN at Atlanta Lyric Theatre
My love of Singin' in the Rain is deeply rooted in my experience of the beloved 1952 film classic, and it's steeped in nostalgia. It's a love that sees me first in line at classic film festivals when Singin' in the Rain is on the marquee. It's a love that makes my heart flutter when I learn that a nearby theater is staging the 1983 musical. And it's a love that makes me willfully forget that the stage musical ... well ... isn't that good. It tries hard, but it just doesn't quite work. The "doesn't quite work" is not particularly bound up in the fact that stage adaptations are noticeably absent the great dancing triumvirate - Kelly, O'Connor, and Reynolds - though that certainly doesn't help. What's wrong is that it feels too cinematic and has an inexplicable absence of story energy and razzle-dazzle that made us fall in love with Hollywoodland on the screen. Atlanta Lyric Theatre's earnest new production can't overcome this problem. No production can. But with tremendously entertaining supporting actors J. Koby Parker in the role of Cosmo Brown and Beth Beyer in the role of Lina Lamont, a beautifully sung titular song complete with a gorgeous streetscape and very real rain, and dreamy period costumes by Amanda Edgerton West, Atlanta Lyric Theatre offers up another pleasant evening of theatre.
The stage musical, which follows the film closely, is set during the pivotal time when silent film was taking its final bow and making way for the new and exciting "talkies." Legendary silent-screen duo, Lina Lamont (Beth Beyer) and Don Lockwood (Jeremy Benton), in an effort to remain relevant in their industry, must take a crack at the talkies. The only problem - and it's a big one - is that Lina Lamont has a terror-inducing voice that makes nails on the chalkboard seem like a Broadway ditty. With the stakes high, Lockwood must ask his new actor girlfriend, Kathy Seldon (Leigh Ellen Jones), to lend her voiceover to Lina's film footage.
Director Mary Nye Bennett has assembled a fine cast. Jeremy Benton, fresh off his run as Phil Davis in the National Tour of White Christmas, has the voice for his role. His singing is, in fact, goosebumpy good. And he's a good dancer, though the full scope of his talent probably isn't showcased here as Jennifer Smiles Plumley's choreography often feels lackluster and unchallenging. Beth Beyer, in the role of Lina Lamont, is the starriest star on the stage. Her comic timing is spot-on. She is particularly adept at creating the confusion and comedy that results from an untalented diva calling the shots. J. Koby Parker, an Atlanta Lyric favorite, is also delightful as Don Lockwood's friend, Cosmo Brown. Parker, a ball of energy, threatens to steal every scene he's in.
Lee Shiver-Cerone's set, though uneven, has its moments of brilliance. The most unforgettable moment in the film sees a dreamy Gene Kelly singing and dancing in the rain. That scene translates well to the stage, especially when it plays out in front of a beautiful row of brownstones like the one Shiver-Cerone creates for the Lyric Stage. And the rain. Oh, that magical rain! And this isn't the only splashy scene. Another notable moment for Shiver-Cerone comes in an ensemble number as dancing girls are wheeled about under delicate and romantic wooden arches.
Amanda Edgerton West is as responsible as anyone else for the superior depiction of the 1920's Jazz Singer era. Beautiful details like fur cuffs, collars, and rows of rhinestones immerse us in the world of the play and create a visual buffet that provides some of the razzle dazzle that's missing from the stage adaptation.
This show is, in the end, a fine outing for Atlanta Lyric Theatre. They do a good job of sidestepping the roadblocks that spring from the marginal quality of the content.
Singin' in the Rain plays through April 28 at Atlanta Lyric Theatre.
For tickets and info, visit http://atlantalyrictheatre.com/.