BWW Review: SINGIN' IN THE RAIN Sings and Dances Up a Storm at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre
Moran, Brodeur, Reed and Pryor Shine in Director Norris' Swell Show
Hailed as a "near-perfect movie musical," Singin' in the Rain is nonetheless a challenge for companies mounting a full-scale version of it "live and onstage." It's not just about making it rain onstage during the show's eponymous song and dance number, but more about capturing the magic of bringing movies to life without all the technical wizardry of a film studio at one's behest.
But you don't need all that stuff if your cast is made up of talented people who know what they're doing - and that is exactly the case with the latest iteration of Singin' in the Rain, now onstage through November 30 at Nashville's legendary Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre. With a cast led by director Jenny Norris (who makes an appearance herself as a Tinseltown star-to-be in the altogether delightful musical) and featuring Matt Moran, Kelsey Brodeur, Curtis Reed and Jenna Pryor, the 2019 version of Singin' in the Rain is sure to entertain, filling the iconic venue with enough singing, dancing and rain to keep you engaged from start to finish.
Moran and Reed play a couple of old pals who've made names for themselves in Hollywood's silent picture era (they've been hoofing it up since they were kids) and are forced to make the not always smooth transition to the talkies, along with a particularly ill-suited blonde bombshell (played to the hilt by the wonderfully talented Pryor) and a fledgling star (Brodeur) just finding her footing in the Tinseltown firmament.
The story should be familiar to anyone who counts themselves among the legions of movie musical fans - and even those who don't, thanks to the film's ubiquity - and it's surely become one of the most popular movies in history. The challenge for Norris and company, of course, is to retain all the charm of the 1952 film and, make no mistake about it, Moran, Reed, Brodeur, Pryor and their cohorts have enormous shoes to fill in bringing the show to life on the magical floating stage at Chaffin's.
Perhaps what makes Singin' in the Rain such a directorial and production challenge is that the script is essentially the screenplay instead of a script written expressly for the stage. So any cast and creative team have their work cut out for them to recreate movie magic in a more traditional theater space.
They mostly prove equal to the task - but let's face it, Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen are a hard act to follow - and with a great deal of spirit, musicality and energy, Norris' talented ensemble acquit themselves quite admirably. Much to the delight of their audiences, the cast hit all the right notes, find their marks easily and deliver the goods in two-and-a-half hours of nonstop hilarity that keeps you riveted to your seats.
Not only does the show's premise guarantee all manner of onstage hijinks along with the singing and dancing, but there are some deliciously campy film treatments scattered throughout to give an inkling of what filmmaking must have been like in the early days of Hollywood. The short films included in Chaffin's production are outlandishly played - satirical and sardonic even while laugh-out-loud funny - and provide a swell respite from the story playing out onstage.
Norris directs the show with a skillful eye that evokes images of early film history and keeps the story hurtling toward it's expected happy ending, while Reed provides the choreographic fireworks that makes such iconic numbers as "Make 'em Laugh," "Moses Supposes" and "Broadway Melody" so engaging and entertaining.
Handsome and charming, Moran proves a good fit for the tap shoes of Don Lockwood (the show's leading man) and he exudes good humor throughout, effortlessly wooing young actress Kathy Selden (the aforementioned Brodeur looks as if she stepped out of a dream of the late 1920s, thanks to Tammie Whited's gorgeous costumes and her own good genes - she has an almost indefinable quality that deems her period perfect for the role) and playing opposite the overbearing Lina Lamont (played to perfection by Pryor with a voice only a mother could love). Moran provides the glue which holds the production together and when he is paired with Reed as Cosmo Brown, the two men exceed all expectations.
Providing strong support among Norris' impressive ensemble of players is Greg Frey, who is terrific as studio chief R.F. Simpson, and Nick Spencer as director Roscoe Dexter, along with Daniel Bissell, Katie Bruno, Gabe Atchley, Seth Brown, Christina Candilora, Christen Heilman, Bethanie Lyon, Josh Inocalla, Benny Jones, Brooke Mihalek, Emma Puerta and Norris comprising the whole of lot of Hollywood types who give the story so much color and verve.
Singin' in the Rain. Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Songs by Arthur Fred and Nacio Herb Brown. Based on the classic MGM film, by special arrangement with Warner Brothers Theatre Ventures Inc. Directed by Jenny Norris. Choreographed by Curtis Reed. Production stage managed by Daniel DeVault. Presented by Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre, 8204 Highway 100, Nashville. Through November 30. For details, go to www.chaffinsbarntheatre.com or call (615) 646-9977 for reservations. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (plus one 20-minute intermission).
photos by Michael Scott Evans