Singin' in the Rain Will Have you Singin' in the Shower All Week Long (4.5 stars)
by Johnny Monsarrat
Singin' in the Rain, screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, based on the classic MGM film, Directed and Choreographed by Richard Stafford, with Music Direction by Milton Granger, Scenic Design by Jack Mehler, Costume Coordination and Additional Costume Design by Mark Nagle, and Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg, runs August 16 - September, 2016 at the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, Massachusetts. See www.nsmt.org.
Based on the 1952 movie with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, which was nominated for two Oscars and won a Golden Globe, Singin' in the Rain is one of the all-time great movie musicals, brought to the North Shore Music Theatre as an original stage production. Kathy, an unknown actress, meets Don Lockwood, a silent film star who's facing two big challenges: the transition to talking pictures and his ditzy co-star, Lina. Will they and their best friend Cosmo rescue the new movie production? Will there be love?
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes, because the show is a comedy. And it comes with music to make you love life even more. You'll recognize "Singin' in the Rain", "All I Do Is Dream of You", "Good Morning", "Gotta Dance", and more. Every song moves the story forward to its obvious but uplifting conclusion.
Again I took the opportunity to arrive early and enjoy the venue. The North Shore Music Theatre is my favorite indoor performance venue for its beauty and comfort. You can stroll through the back garden or have a seat there and enjoy the view. Or walk up the outdoor stairs into the trees to have dinner at the Backstage Bistro. The food is more about comfort than richness, served buffet style, and you'll feel right at home. You'll need some willpower to resist going back for seconds.
I also visited the Broadway Club, a private room that is open to subscribers who pay a $110 annual fee. The Broadway Club is not that big a deal, more about comfort than mingling with the rich. You won't find a live pianist or servers with hors d'oeuvres, but the bathroom lines are shorter, and you can pre-order drinks for the long intermission. There's no shortage of snacks and drinks in the main theatre, however. I did get to briefly meet owner Bill Hanney, and told him that his venue is so inviting that even before a show begins, I'm already having a good time every time at the North Shore Music Theatre. (It really is worth the drive up from Boston. Don't be too lazy to explore New England!)
The secondary cast are the stars of the show. Emily Stockdale (Lina Lamont) squeaks when she speaks, to demonstrate that Lina is clearly not ready for the talkies, but adds variety to this running joke so that it doesn't become old. For example, she chooses one word that Lina does learn to speak properly and has it hilariously pop up normal-sounding in the middle of her squeaky dialogue. She also plays Lina with empathy, giving depth to what could be a cartoonish villain.
Even more astounding was the performance of Sean McGibbon (sidekick Cosmo Brown) who could have played the leading man. He sings, he acts, he dances, and he tap dances, with great physicality. There is something confident and deliberate about McGibbon's gestures that heighten the joy and energy in his performance. McGibbon plays the sarcastic fool but also embodies hope, and his confidence isn't so unshakeable that it undermines the tension of the plot. Someone more familiar with the movie than I was said it was a pitch perfect match to Donald O'Connor in the original film. As if that weren't enough, it seemed to me that McGibbon was actually playing the piano in some scenes, not pantomiming. I think that makes him a quadruple-threat? I'm not sure why Lockwood disappears during "Make 'em Laugh", which Cosmo sings to cheer Lockwood up. I was very impressed that Tessa Grady (Kathy Selden) did her dancing and tap dancing in high heels.
Mark Evans (Don Lockwood) is an extraordinary singer but his dancing was sometimes too loose, for example with arms at rest or dangling, and sometimes too stiff rather than joyful, such as in the famous lamppost scene. To be fair, Gene Kelly is a hard act to follow and the dance routines were much stronger after the intermission. This is sometimes a sign that rehearsal time was tight, because if a play is rehearsed chronologically, the later scenes are fresher in the minds of the cast. So as the performance continues, future dates are sure to be more polished. Romantically fated couple Mark Evans (Lockwood) and Tessa Grady (Kathy Selden) played their roles well, and I understand that Selden is supposed to be an everywoman, but the couple did not bring the unique, signature motifs that make characters remarkable. Better chemistry was found between Evans and Stockdale as co-stars who hate each other. Their scenes together "on set" filming the movie were so funny that the audience did not stop laughing through the entire scene.
The humor throughout the show was clever and original. Kudos to Kevin Loreque as the Male Diction Teacher, who added a layer of humor to his performance with the implication that he loved speech coaching and reading tongue twisters out loud so much that it thrilled him sexually.
The production's big special effect was to have real water rain onto the stage, without destroying the space below the stage, including the cut out stage that rises and drops and all of its mechanics. This was masterfully set up by scenic and lighting designer Jack Mehler. However, I would question the choice to start the play with a movie screening. They literally stopped the stage show and projected a short movie. The original 1952 movie does this, but a theatrical adaptation is an adaptation -- it can and should take liberties. Even though the screening was hilarious, it blunted the play's momentum and could have been acted out live, or left to later. Scene changes were clean throughout the production and lighting was used well to "change the scene" without needing much actual scenery to change.
Kudos to Kristyn Pope for the evening's best solo dance number, which may have been a dream sequence. I see that she was also Associate Choreographer, no surprise! Beverly, Massachusetts, on Boston's North Shore, is 96% white, but as a venue with the aspiration to go beyond "regional theatre" to draw visitors from Boston and beyond, I do hope for more diversity in future North Shore Music Theatre productions. The entire cast goes beyond expectations in the big dance numbers of the latter half of the show, with 40 people tap dancing in step with each other, even the kids.
Singin' in the Rain is a must-see production. Inspiring and hugely entertaining, it will make you laugh and keep you humming its songs all week. As it runs it could get polished to 5 stars, but for now I'll give it a "make your week" but not life-changing 4.5 stars.
See www.nsmt.org and make sure to catch their next show too, SPAMALOT, which be their best comic theatre production of all time.