Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Usually when one thinks of a theatrical musical, the first thing that comes to mind is the stage production, then, a film adaptation. In the case of Singin’ in the Rain, the film was actually the basis for the musical production. It has actually happened this way a few times before (Xanadu, Footloose, and Flashdance-to name a few), and Singin’ in the Rain falls into the category of musical film first; later adapted for the stage. It seems strange to think that such a beloved musical (and one starring Gene Kelly no less) started out as a film, but has come to be a part of the classic collection of film and stage musicals. With a fantastic cast (funnyman Donald O’Connor, Rita Moreno, Cyd Charisse, and the young Debbie Reynolds) Singin’ in the Rain has made its mark as a notable musical on screen and on stage.
Set in the late 1920’s in Hollywood, Singin’ in the Rain is centered on the golden age of the silent film era, just before the transition of “talking pictures,” or “talkies” as they were known in Hollywoodland. Fictional silent screen duo, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the “It” couple-favorites among the fans, the entertainment columnists, and Monumental Pictures-the film studio who contracts them. Enter talking pictures, and an ingénue who has the most unbearable and ear-shattering voice for on-screen acting. Throw is a dose of a few comedic situations, a little romance, large musical numbers set against the backdrop of the roaring ‘20’s and you have “Singin’ in the Rain,” the perfect formula for any musical. Often times, the plot, characters and even musical numbers change for the sake of an adaptation. However, the stage musical closely adheres to the plot of the film, and tells the story of a few fictional characters, loosely based around true events in Hollywood.
Director JaceSon P. Barrus brought together a tight ensemble cast (of all ages) which worked well together, and created a fantastic concept as he bridged the film and stage versions together, while also paying the appropriate homage to the film. It was nice to see that they pledged faithfulness to the film, but, also took some creative license and made the production stand in a category of its own. From the moment the show started, the company was so fully charged with energy. I am always impressed with the creative and innovative things that the production team at Plaza Theatre Company is able to do in their theatre-in-the-round space. The cast and crew brought intimacy to the story, and allowed the audience to be up close and personal with the choreography, the humor, and the details of the story.
Tina Barrus designed costumes that were not only appropriate to the 1920’s, but had a great attention to detail. The 1920’s are another decade of fashion that absolutely fascinate me. From the fantastic hats, to the color and texture details of each costume, the costumes were one of the highlights of the production for me. The wardrobe of the women of the decade was very much mirrored on stage, and certainly gave depth and life to these larger-than-life personalities. There were many bright colors, sequins, and fringe-elements that have become very recognizable as characteristics of the 1920’s clothing. Each piece of clothing, and accessory was very dramatic, and was everything that I would have expected to see in the golden age of silent Hollywood film. There were a lot of details that Ms. Barrus incorporated into each costume, making them visually stunning and creative representations of the 1920’s.
Matt Victory was extraordinary in the role of Don Lockwood. Mr. Victory delivered with a strong vocal presence, and was very charismatic on stage. Mr. Victory delivered a spot on, and honest portrayal of the fictional silent movie star, Don Lockwood. Not only did Victory have the look of what I would expect to see from someone in the 1920’s, but, his performance of film star Don Lockwood very much reminded me of a young Gene Kelly. It was evident to me that he was having fun on stage in this production (something that I feel can sometimes be lost in the actor’s quest to deliver a serious and respectable performance). Mr. Victory was charming on stage, and overall, delivered a fantastic performance.
Another standout was Jill Baker in the role of Kathy Selden. Through comedic delivery, a likeable on-stage persona and an incredible vocal range, Ms. Baker brought an wonderful element of maturity to the role that was originally portrayed by a young and “squeaky” nineteen year old Debbie Reynolds on screen. Ms. Baker’s honest charm on stage was a nice contrast to the loud, and obnoxious co-star Lina Lamont (portrayed comically by Milette Siler.) Ms. Baker truly took the role of Kathy Selden and made it her own, while also paying the appropriate homage to the performance and role played by Debbie Reynolds, an actress that the film and stage community dearly misses.
This production of Singin’ in the Rain is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a wonderful musical experience at the theatre. From the moment the lights go down, and the familiar cinematic score is unveiled, you will be drawn into the story.
Singin’ in the Rain at Plaza Theatre Company keeps the integrity of the film, but also takes creative risks and gives a unique, and creative stage adaptation to the comfort of Cleburne, Texas. It is appropriate for audiences of all ages, and is what I consider to be one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. It is a musical that everyone should see, and is truly a classic. Whether you have seen the film, or if you are being introduced to the advent of “talking” pictures for the first time, through the eyes of Don, Kathy, Cosmo and Lina, “Singin’ in the Rain” will leave you with an enjoyable, and entertaining event of theatrical proportions. If you are looking for classic musical theatre, look no further. Who knows…you may even be in for a surprise or two…The forecast at each performance is cloudy with a chance of rain. Be sure to bring your umbrella.