Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Also see Scott's review of Flashdance
It's always a sure bet that musicals presented at the University of Cincinnati College - Conservatory of Music (CCM) will feature wonderfully talented and well-prepared student performers. For their current show, Singin' In The Rain, audiences are also treated to splendid choreography and an impressive design accomplishment in the form of real water for the rain element of the story, in addition to the professional level performances.
Singin' In the Rain follows the early days of "talkies," as silent movie stars Don Lockwood and his leading lady Lina Lamont try to transition to the new film form. Comic chaos ensues as Don, his best buddy Cosmo Brown, and Don's new romantic love Kathy Selden attempt to cover up Lina's unpleasant speaking and singing voice to save the group's first sound movie and their careers.
The stage adaptation closely follows the famous MGM 1952 film, with a screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown (music) and Arthur Freed (lyrics). Most of the songs were written decades earlier for various MGM movies. The score includes now well-known tunes such as "Make 'Em Laugh," "Moses Supposes," "Good Morning," and the title number. As wonderful as the movie is, some of the dialogue doesn't transfer well to the stage, and any live production is likely to pale in comparison to the film due to the iconic lead performers (Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O'Connor) and unmatchable dances. On stage, the "Broadway Ballet" scene (aka "Gotta Dance"), featuring 1950s modern dance (which is incongruous with the late 1920s setting, by the way) seems like filler and an excuse for more dancing, which of course it was/is.
CCM's production wisely has a choreographer at the helm, with Diane Lala as director and Lala and Patti James creating the dances in tandem. The show flows at a quick pace and has apt tone and blocking. The dances, including lots of wonderful tap numbers, are vibrant, fun, and well-executed. Ryan Sigurdson leads a lush 27-piece orchestra that couldn't sound any better.
As Don, Max Clayton dances up a storm and his smooth, crooner vocals are a great fit for the material. Katie Wesler is extremely endearing and charismatic as Kathy, and she's a great dancer and capable vocalist. While their chemistry together is very good as well, neither is able to bring a lot of depth to the characters, though the material is likely to blame for that. Matt Hill shows first-rate comic timing, physical adroitness, and outstanding singing and dancing as Cosmo. Sarah Bishop (Lina) scores lots of laughs and is up to the formidable challenge of capturing the vapid and vain personality of the movie star while also skillfully speaking and singing in the role's off-kilter and high-pitched tone. Other praiseworthy supporting performances are turned in by Connor Deane (R.F Simpson), Blaine Alden Krauss (Diction Teacher), and Julian Decker, whose vocals in "Beautiful Girl" are a musical highlight of the show. The ensemble performs admirably, especially in their dancing.
Mark Halpin's handsome scenic design includes some large and impressive backdrops and the previously mentioned rain set. The lighting by Angelina Vyushkova is effective and well-rendered, and Reba Senske's attractive period-appropriate costumes flow wonderfully with the dancing.
Singin' In the Rain is comedic fluff, but fluff featuring wonderful dancing, hummable songs, and solid comedy. While no stage version can match the glories of the famous film, CCM's Mainstage production features great choreography and fantastic performances, and is first-rate entertainment as usual. CCM's production ran from October 31 November 3, 2013.-- Scott Cain