Rainy romp replicates hit film

Published: July 13, 2006
Did you just love the MGM musical Singin’ in the Rain with its satirical look at Hollywood’s rocky transition from silent films to talkies? Then you’re going to just love the North Shore Music Theatre’s current production, which faithfully translates the Comden and Green confection to the stage. The wonderful score of trunk songs by Nachio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed has been retained, as has, seemingly, every twist and turn of Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s original choreography.

The traditional live greeting to the audience by Artistic Director/Executive Producer Jon Kimbell has been transformed into his image smiling down from a dark and scratchy screen reminiscent of the early silent films. As the orchestra launches into the show’s overture, the early strains have the distinct sound of a 1920s radio orchestra.

The script has the same sort of satirical bent as the more recent “Little Me,” with self-aggrandizing statements by Hollywood stars at a silent film opening being exposed in clever flashbacks for the exaggerations they really are.

A charismatic cast recreates the roles made famous in the original film by stars Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Jean Hagen.

Matt Loehr has an easy, self-assured charm in the Gene Kelly role of silent film idol Don Lockwood, dancing with athletic prowess and grace, and delivering the marvelous hit songs with a better singing voice than the original. Loehr has a strong, mellow and versatile voice, and he uses it well in this production singing great hits like “You Are My Lucky Star,” “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” and “You Were Meant for Me.”

And when it comes time to get wet? Promised that it would rain on stage, many audience members are probably expecting some mild sprinkles from above. What North Shore technicians deliver instead is a steady and long-lasting deluge, drenching Loehr, and giving him plenty of standing water for his splashy rendition of the title song. It also delivers an extremely slippery wet tile floor for Loehr to negotiate, and he inventively turns several near spills into exuberant sideways slides.

The North Shore audience goes absolutely wild, roaring with applause over this number, which in itself is worth the price of admission.

Beth Beyer does a fine turn as Lina Lamont, Lockwood’s silent screen partner. She creates Lamont’s disastrous speaking voice with an amusing collection of nasal whines and threatening growls. She transfers these vocal pyrotechnics to an equally disastrous singing voice in her knockout solo “What’s Wrong With Me?” The audience is crazy for this number as well, with Beyer’s extravagant gestures and subtly off-key vocal wanderings.

Mark Ledbetter’s performance as Lockwood’s lifelong friend and dancing partner Cosmo Brown is less goofy and more edgy than O’Connor’s turn in the movie. Ledbetter has an excellent voice and is a wildly athletic dancer and able comic. Beyond his tour-de-force solo turn on “Make ’Em Laugh,” he has two great song and dance numbers with Loehr, “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes.” When the two terrific tappers do a series of face-to-face wings on a tiny tabletop, it is spectacular dancing. Their singing voices are similar, with sharp clear tones, and they make believable and engaging pals.

Kelly D. Felthous combines a lovely singing voice with expert dancing in her sincere and charming performance as Kathy Seldon, the young stage actress who wins Lockwood’s heart.

Perennial North Shore Scrooge David Coffee has a marvelous scene in which, as movie director Roscoe Dexter, he grows increasingly frustrated with the difficulties of translating a silent movie into a talking picture. Coffee’s comedy hits exactly the right tone. When the hastily cobbled-together talking picture has its debut, the scene is drop-dead funny.

Michael Brian Dunn does a superb job of recreating the sound of a 1930s tenor in the exquisite show-off-the-pretty-girls number “Beautiful Girl.”

This production, ably directed by Richard Stafford, is an extravaganza of magnificent music, sparkling satire and delightful dancing. Of course, when you faithfully bring an entire movie to the stage, you bring along any small flaws from that same movie. It has always seemed odd that the wild comic efforts of “Make ’Em Laugh,” never really seem to make ’em laugh, and the long “Girl in the Green Dress” dance number, although expertly performed by Sae La Chin and Loehr, is a lengthy side excursion from the already busy plot. It was possibly another example of Gene Kelly wanting to show off his spectacular ability to do a serious dance number.

The answer to what the long diversion was all about is offered as Cosmo, out of breath, is seen finishing his frenetic explanation of this as a possible contemporary addition to the musical version of the silent flick “The Dueling Cavalier.”

This is a feel-good show, frisky and full of fun. Anyone who loves hit songs, great dancing, and most particularly that fine old MGM musical it is based on, should make the effort to get over to North Shore for this one.