United States Brown, Comden and Green, Singin’ in the Rain: Soloists, College Conservatory of Music, Cincinnati, 29.10.2013 (RDA)
OK, let’s have a show of hands here! How many of you have not seen the film Singin’ in the Rain? How about the Broadway musical of the same title—you know, the 1982 one with some of the same old show tunes by Herbert Nacio Brown dating all the way back to 1952? Songs like “Make Em’ Laugh,” “You Are My lucky Star,” or “Broadway Rhythm”—perhaps you remember the song titles. I hear someone humming the title song, but anyone remember the terrific lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green? Yes, I know what you’re thinking: they don’t make them like that anymore. Well, maybe they don’t—not quite that innocent—before, paraphrasing Noel Coward’s memorable aphorism, “the café society became the Nescafe society.” But, I know, you will say that they don’t make the likes of Donald O’Connor, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, with those incredible singing-dancing-comedy chops. Well, I have news for you: meet the triple-threat students of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, smack in middle-America, who dance up a storm, and sing—and make you laugh.
Now on stage and all too briefly, the Broadway hopefuls at C-CM are kicking up their heels, tapping and singing their little hearts out in a rousing revival of what’s widely considered the greatest movie musical ever made. And in case you’re wondering: yes, they do have the rain sequence, with the ridiculously-talented young leading man Max Clayton, splashing his way to future stardom. He and his own leading lady, the ravishing Katie Wesler have a kind of wacko chemistry coupled to an insouciant style that’s a throwback to goofball film comedies Hollywood makes no more. Together and separately, Mr. Clayton and Ms. Wexler manage to look handsome and beautiful and utterly funny.
Under the water-tight choreography and direction of Diane Lala, with tap sequences imaginatively re-invented by Patti James, solid musical direction by Ryan Sigurdson, imaginative sets by Mark Halpin, and impressive multi-media by Kevin Burke, Lakshmi Tirumala and Sam Pennybacker, the show is one of the best, if not the best production of a musical I’ve seen in my three years in Cincinnati.
And, just to be safe, the technical direction of Steve Miller makes sure that the show is delivered as a lean, mean and healthy Broadway baby, with no slipping dancers or microphone-bearing singers suffering electrical shocks on a raked stage where all the magic happens. I almost forgot to salute the dazzling fight choreography of k. Jenny Jones, who turns dangerous swashbuckling swordplay into lots of fun.
In a nutshell, the story concerns leading man Don Lockwood, aspiring starlet Kathy Selden, comic Cosmo Brown, and beautiful but woefully untalented Lina Lamont as they vie for their place on the walk of fame, during the transition from silent movies of the 1920’s into the talkies of the 1930’s—leaving in their wake as collateral damage a number of actors who can mug up a storm but can’t act worth a dime. The cast is brilliant, the large singing and dancing ensemble just as good. And the upshot? Lockwood remains a star, Selden becomes his new leading lady, Brown remains the ever-happy sidekick and poor Lamont retires to wherever former Hollywood luminaries retire to after they run out of luminosity.
Rafael de Acha
This review originally appeared, in a slightly altered form, on TheaterReviews.com