BWW Review: Thoroughly Charming SINGIN' IN THE RAIN at Theatre by the Sea
Singin' in the Rain is one of the best movie musicals of all time, so it is no doubt a daunting prospect to mount a stage production. Aside from the technical issues of actually making it rain on stage, you need a cast talented and charismatic enough to rival Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds. Theatre by the Sea has managed to give us something that is almost as magical as the original, but with the added bonus of some hyper-local movie scenes within the play. The result is a laugh-out-loud extravaganza with heaps of talent, fantastic costumes and technical wizardry to rival any Broadway show.
Singin' in the Rain begins as Hollywood filmmaking is starting to shift from silent movies to "talkies." Don Lockwood (Tim Falter) is a major movie star who is frequently paired up (on screen and in the tabloids) with the platinum blonde Lina Lamont (Mychal Phillips). Unfortunately for Lockwood and Lamont, Lina's shrill voice and thick regional accent means that transitioning to talkies might not be a smooth path for the pair. Lockwood wants to ditch her anyway, but even though Lina seems like a dippy blonde, she has a mind for deceit, and aims to keep Lockwood and Lamont as a duo, using the voice of Don's new girlfriend Kathy Selden (Allsun O'Malley) as her own.
The play follows the movie script almost exactly, except for a couple key choices that actually work slightly better--Lina gets to sing the song "What's Wrong With Me?" which is hysterical and shows Mychal Phillip's impressive ability to keep up Lina's shrill voice even while singing, and a slight trimming of the fantasy musical number in Act II. Somewhat surprisingly, the standout performance of the night is Phillips' Lina who steals every scene she's in with the Bambi-like batting of her massive false eyelashes and perfect comic timing. Even though she's the villain in the story, her performance is so delightful it almost makes you want to root for her.
That's not to say the rest of the cast are slouches by any stretch. Tim Falter as Lockwood has a velvety tenor that is a pleasure to listen to, and he manages to keep up his energy despite the huge physical demands on his character. Don and his best friend Cosmo (Sean McGibbon) have an easy comradery that feels genuine, and McGibbon's facial expressions are hilarious. One of the most important musical numbers is, of course, "Make 'Em Laugh," and despite some technical issues on press night, McGibbon never slowed down or faltered. It is such a physical number that it's almost overwhelming to see live, but truly impressive when done well.
One of the best parts in the stage version is seeing the movie clips from The Dueling Cavalier, which were filmed at Middlebridge Middle School in Narragansett, but look like they could have been shot in a Newport mansion. The movie clips come complete with all the pops and crackles of old film, and are just hilarious to watch.
The only real drawback of this live production is the fact that it feels like it's leaning too heavily on the film version. The actors at Theatre by the Sea seem to be doing just an imitation of the film actors, rather than giving the characters their own interpretation. Even the stage is ringed with pictures set in a filmstrip frame of Debbie Reynolds et al. While it's nice for fans of the film to see those pictures, it really does a disservice to this cast because it's constantly reminding the audience that even though Tim Falter is a fantastically talented performer, he's not Gene Kelly. No one should be made to compete with Gene Kelly!
This is the perfect summer musical for the month of June, and Theatre by the Sea has mounted a fantastic production sure to satisfy old fans, and charm new ones.
Singin' in the Rain will be presented from June 19 - July 13. Performances are scheduled for Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm, Thursdays at 2:00 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 and Sundays at 5:00 pm, with special performance times on Sunday, June 23 at 2:00 & 7:00 pm and special added matinee performances on Tuesday July 2, Wednesday July 3 and Wednesday July 10 at 2:00 pm. The theatre is located at 364 Cards Pond Road, Wakefield. Tickets are $54 - $77 for all non-preview performances (additional fees may apply). Discount rates are available for groups of 10 or more by calling (401) 782-3800 x112. Tickets are on sale at the box office Monday through Saturday from 11:00 am - 6:00 pm and performance days from 11:00 am until curtain, online 24-hours-a-day at www.theatrebythesea.com and via telephone during normal box office hours by calling (866) 811-4111 or (401) 782-TKTS (8587).
Photo: Tim Falter as Don Lockwood by Steven Richard Photography.