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Singin' in the Rain

Also see Sharon's review of Alice in One-Hit-Wonderland 2: Through the Looking Glass

Singin' in the Rain
David Engel
One of the challenges that faces the long-time theatregoer is dealing with the impulse to compare. Every understudy, every replacement, every cast member in every revival ... can so easily be compared to the role's originator. And when the original performance is an iconic one, it makes it that much harder for the new performer. Sure, we'd like to judge every performance on its own individual merits, and be open to new and different interpretations of a role. After all, theatre is a vibrant ever-changing art form. If all you want to do is experience the original over and over again, listen to the cast recording or rent the movie.

And yet, sometimes a role is so inextricably intertwined with the actor who originated it, and the role itself lacks any real depths to be plumbed, that anyone else even attempting to tackle it will of necessity suffer by comparison to the original. Or, putting it more concretely: David Engel is not Gene Kelly, and unless you can stop the cinema in your head from running your memories of MGM's Singin' in the Rain, you probably shouldn't bother with Cabrillo Music Theatre's production of the show. The stage show is bound to compare poorly, and you really would be better off just renting the movie.

But, if you can put that aside ... if you can somehow look at Engel's Don Lockhart as a different character (albeit one that owes a lot to Kelly's original), and if you can look at the dance numbers as some pretty ambitious stuff rather than an attempt to put on a stage what is, in essence movie magic, then you can have a fairly good time.

Indeed, to my great surprise, some of the best parts of Cabrillo's Singin' in the Rain are its book scenes—and full credit goes to director Larry Raben for pulling them off. Randy Rogel, as Cosmo, gets laughs with the off-the-cuff delivery of punch lines we already know. Melissa Fahn's Lina Lamont actually evolves—we can see her transform from clueless, self-centered diva to outright raving villain. The initial meeting between Engel's Don Lockwood and Shanon Mari Mills's Kathy Selden bristles with real animosity (Mills ventures into high pitched squeaking when Kathy is angry—the similarity to Lina's voice suggests a reason why Don might immediately be turned off). The film sequences—in which we see the disastrous results of Lockwood and Lamont's initial foray into talking pictures—are downright hilarious. (And good for Engel for making Don just as bad, in his own way, as Lina is.)

Which brings us to the dance numbers. Engel here has a "Choreography Adapted for the Stage by" credit, and he retains many of the original dance moments that it just wouldn't be Singin' in the Rain without. (So, yes, they walk the couch over in "Good Morning," and there's plenty of lamppost swinging in the title song.) And there are a few other notable moments too. While there might not be much chemistry between Don and Kathy when he sings "You Were Meant For Me" to her, you can see it in their dancing—watch how Don lingers on a step so he can keep looking into Kathy's eyes, and there's no doubt what he's feeling.

Yet, a little too frequently, the game cast is just not up to executing this choreography with perfection, much less flair. The first dance sequence in the show is a flashback—two kids, young Don and Cosmo, do a quick number. It's cute and well done, until one boy assists the other in a cartwheel, which comes off as a little awkward. And then there's a second cartwheel, and you're left wondering why Engel had the boys repeat the one move they're not particularly good at. Rogel, in "Make 'em Laugh," misses about as many hat tricks as he makes (although he manages get even more laughs by his frustration at missing them) and Engel even misses an umbrella catch in "Singin' in the Rain." "Good Morning" has some really spiffy dancing in it—but a mistake midway through made one think they would've been better off with something a little easier that they could sell better. There's just a bit too much here for this enthusiastic cast to confidently handle.

At the performance reviewed, none of this really seemed to stop the audience from having fun. Maybe it was the obvious good-naturedness of the cast giving it a go, or maybe it was just bringing back fond memories of the movie that put a smile on everyone's face. Perhaps, here, the spirit of the original helped improve the perception of the copy.

Singin' in the Rain runs at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza's Fred Kavli Theatre through August 3, 2008. For tickets, click www.Ticketmaster.com.

Cabrillo Music Theatre—Carole W. Nussbaum, President & CEO; Lewis Wilkenfeld, Artistic Director—presents Singin' in the Rain. Based on the M.G.M. Film. (Original Choreography by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen) Screenplay by Betty Comden & Adolph Green; Songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed. Lighting Design Jean-Yves Tessier; Sound Design Jonathan Burke; Prop Designer/Scenic Coordinator T. Theresa Scarano; Wardrobe Supervisor Christine Gibson; Hair & Wig Designer Karen Zanki; Production Stage Manager Lindsay Martens*; Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Samuels; Technical Director Hugh Scott; Assistant Choreographer Linda Neel; Marketing/Press David Elzer/Demand PR; Musical Director/Conductor Alby Potts; Choreography Adapted for the Stage by David Engel; Directed by Larry Raben.

Cast:
Dora Bailey - Rita Tarin
Zelda Zanders - Ann Myers
J. Comberland Spendrill III - Erik Kline
Olga Mara - Marni Zaifert
R.F. Simpson - Gary Gordon
Roscoe Dexter - Terry Fishman
Cosmo Brown - Randy Rogel*
Lina Lamont - Melissa Fahn*
Don Lockwood - David Engel*
Young Don - Rocky Lynch
Young Cosmo - Jacob Tobias
Rod - Chris Ramirez
Kathy Selden - Shanon Mari Mills
Policeman - Cory Bretsch
Wardrobe Mistress - Deborah Shulman
Production Tenor - Neal Bakke
Sid Phillips - Richard Storrs
Miss Dinsmore - Farley Cadena
Male Diction Teacher - Gene Bernath
Sound Engineers - Drew D'Andrea, Chris Acuff
Lady in Waiting - Layne Baker
Villain - Neal Bakke
The Girl in the Green Dress - Linda Neel
Young Starlet - Delaney Miner
Ensemble: Chris Acuff, Kasey Alfonso, Layne Baker, Neal Bakke, Christopher Bray, Cory Bretsch, Amanda Brown, Farley Cadena, Drew D'Andrea, Jasmine Ejan, Jennifer Forster, Brandon Heitkamp, Erik Kline, Holly long, Lindsay McDonald, Ann Myers, Linda Neel, Carly Pippin, Chris Ramirez, Jonalyn Saxer, Deborah Shulman, Richard Storrs, Marni Zaifert
Children: Rocky Lynch, Delaney Miner, Rilery miner, Sami Staitman, Jacob Tobias * denotes membership in Actors' Equity


Photo: Ed Krieger


- Sharon Perlmutter






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