REVIEW: "Singin' In The Rain,"- La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, McCoy Rigby Entertainment
"...The perfect entertainment for any fan of the Golden Age of movie musicals!"
When an audience leaves a theatre humming the tunes, you know you have a winner! La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment scored big time with the highly polished film-classic-turned-musical, “Singin’ in the Rain” last Saturday night. The show opened to a preview on the 19th, then to a tightly packed crowd April 20th, and is set to play through May 12th at the beautiful, Tony-nominated La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in La Mirada, hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the best Broadway-style houses in Southern California.”
“Singin' in the Rain” is a musical with a book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown. Originally a West End production, the musical was adapted from the 1952 movie of the same name, and opened in June, 1983, at the London Palladium, where it ran until September 1985. The show went on to a Broadway run with 367 performances and two Tony nominations, followed by several tours and revivals, resulting in a Laurence Olivier Award and several additional nominations.
Directed and Choreographed by the acclaimed Spencer Liff, Director Liff has a long history of proven theatrical productions over the years (“Spring Awakening,” “The Man in the Ceiling,” “Aladdin”), and has been a part of the past 9 seasons of FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” which has earned him two Emmy Award nominations for Best Choreography. Multiple TV appearances include “Dancing with the Stars,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Emmy Awards,” and “Best Time Ever with Neil Patrick Harris.” Director Liff is not only on Hollywood’s short list, but also on Broadway’s, and definitely comes through with this great classical masterpiece.
Set in Hollywoodland in the waning days of the silent screen era, the choreography and the plot closely adheres to the roles made so famous by Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds in the 1952 MGM film. It focuses on romantic lead Don Lockwood (Michael Starr) and his humble roots as a musician, dancer and stunt man, his sidekick Cosmo Brown (Brandon Burks), aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Kimberly Immanuel), and Lockwood's leading lady, Lina Lamont (Sara King), whose less-than-dulcet vocal tones make her an unlikely candidate for stardom in talking pictures.
Mr. Starr has played many roles in his celebrated theatrical career (“Bright Star,” “Kiss Me, Kate,” “Mama Mia,” “42nd Street”), but this has to be one of his best. He echoes Gene Kelly in a remarkable way. His singing, dancing and acting hit all the right notes and yet not without some individual flair of his own.
The story centers on Monumental Pictures in 1927, and hunky, silent film star, Lockwood, can barely tolerate his vapid leading lady, Lina Lamont (Sara King). Further complicating matters, Lina has the false impression that their screen romance is real. The more Don tries to tell her otherwise, the more convinced she is.
After the first Warner Brothers talking picture is released and proves to be a smash hit, Monumental’s studio head and audience favorite, R. F. Simpson (Peter Van Norden) and Chief Director Roscoe Dexter (Jamie Torcellini) are beside themselves on how to compete with “talkies.”
Production pianist and Lockwood’s longtime partner Cosmo Brown (the razzle-dazzle Mr. Burks) convinces Simpson to convert the studio’s recent project — a French Revolution romance named the “Dueling Cavalier” — to not only a “talkie” but a musical, as the “Dancing Cavalier.” Because of his years in vaudeville, Lockwood has no trouble speaking lines, singing and dancing, but Lamont lacks the necessary erudition, whose speaking voice sounds like cats being strangled. Despite vocal coaching, which features some of the shows funniest scenes capped by one of its most ebullient numbers “Moses Supposes,” she can’t speak her lines or sing her songs without using her normal, but incredibly grating voice.
Enter the delightful Kathy Seldon, with just the right degree of perky, captivating appeal. By Hollywood standards, she's just a lowly dancing girl, driving herself to gigs and popping out of cakes. She's characterized as a background player and chorus girl when we meet her, but we view her as ambitious and working her way up the Hollywood ranks. Meanwhile, Kathy and Don fall in love at that breakneck pace that only happens in the best musicals.
Kathy's generous actions make her an aberration in self-centered, career-obsessed Hollywood. But even though she agrees to be Lamont’s voice to save the picture, Lina is furious and does everything possible to sabotage the romance. By the second act, Lina has gone full scoundrel. She releases a bogus interview to the press, demands that R.F. force Kathy to dub her voice for her 'til the end of cinematic time,’ and tells R.F. that she's running the show now at Monumental Pictures. "I make more money than Calvin Coolidge… put together!" But she makes a classic movie villain mistake and gets too big for her bedazzled britches.
With the premiere of the new film being a tremendous success, the audience is clamoring for Lina to sing live. Don and Cosmo scamper to improvise and get Lina to lip-synch while Kathy sings into a second microphone while hidden behind the curtain. But as Lina begins "singing," Don, Cosmo and Simpson gleefully raise the curtain behind her, revealing the true talent behind the picture.
You can’t help but applaud, however, the actress’s perfect performance. In the song, “What’s Wrong With Me?” Lina actually invoked sympathy about halfway through, but then returned to her character’s self-aggrandizing demeanor before the song ended. It seems for Lina that, without her job, she's nothing. Maybe that's why she turns into such a grade-A villainess in the final act. Girlfriend's desperate to save her identity and the ritzy lifestyle to which she's become accustomed.
In the end, Kathy's willingness to sacrifice herself is rewarded: She gets the guy as well as her dream job. We also see her down-to-earth character, born of grit and determination, rub off on Don. As he changes for the better by the end of the show, Don Lockwood, vaudeville hoofer and star of talking musicals, is happier, more vibrant, and way less insecure and self-centered than Don Lockwood, silent film star. And, he doesn't even have to wear any more powdered wigs.
But Lina may not be the only character who's developed by dialogue. Don is, too. More accurately, he's developed by a lack of dialogue. Expressing his innermost thoughts and feelings off the cuff isn't exactly this silent film star's forte. "I'm trying to say something to you," he explains to Kathy as they start falling for each other, "but I'm such a ham, I guess I'm not able to without the proper setting." Then he fires up the lights and wind machine on an empty stage and expresses himself with a song. Don has a rough time communicating his true feelings by speaking, so, instead, he dances. Fortunately, he's, like, really good at it.
"Singin' in the Rain" is so successful because it is filled with some of the best music and dance numbers in the history of musical theatre. The Ensemble does incredible dance and vocal support throughout the numbers, and what dancers they are! Show-stealer Cosmo’s madcap “Make ‘em Laugh” …does, with his remarkable tap dancing, hilariously nimble slapstick and tuneful voice. The trio’s “Good Morning” brought down the house, and the Cosmo-Don fast-feet duet, “Moses Supposes,” that cunningly written jazz patter song that incorporates tongue twisters and tap dance, was impeccably timed and brilliant, as was the jaunty, vaudeville routine, “Fit as a Fiddle!” Highlighting the incredible repertoire of songs are, “Broadway Melody” which thrilled the audience in a sterling round of choreography, as well as “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Would You” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream.”
As for piano man Cosmo, Don’s best bud, they have been friends since childhood, rising through the Hollywood ranks together via vaudeville. You could call him “Fun Personified.” Cosmo is an athletic, rubber-faced, hilarious ham. For evidence, look no further than the "Make 'Em Laugh" dance number, in which he manhandles himself like a cartoon character, He pulls silly faces, takes a hit to the back and front of his head; smashes into things, and runs up and flips off walls before collapsing. He's like all of the Looney Tunes roster rolled into one.
But don't be fooled: Cosmo's more than just comic relief. He's a shrewd and frequently snarky observer of Hollywood's rampant absurdity. For starters, he keeps Don's movie star ego in check. When Don starts down a melancholy spiral after “The Dueling Cavalier's” disastrous preview, Cosmo snaps him out it. "Well, at least you're taking it lying down," he jokes.
He also never misses a chance to put Lina in her place. When Rod (Justin Cowden), Monumental Pictures’ publicity manager, tells Lina they can't let her make speeches in public because the studio has to protect its stars from looking stupid at any cost, Cosmo's quick to chime in. "No one's got that much money." Ultimately, Cosmo is much more than a court jester; he's Monumental Pictures' wisecracking conscience, with many of the musical's best lines.
With the aid of brilliant technical minds, La Mirada Theatre provides the audience with an abundance of “glorious feelings” throughout the show, and also makes it rain on stage during the signature number as well as an encore. But it’s the core of the cast that precipitates the show's success.
As emulous movie producer, R.F. Simpson, Mr. Van Norden is impressively larger-than-life and channels those domineering, old Hollywood studio moguls perfectly.
But unlike most senior movie executives, R.F. isn't a visionary maverick. He initially dismisses talking pictures as just a fad. "They'll lose their shirts," R.F. says of Warner Brothers as they get ready to release a little movie called “The Jazz Singer.” You remember, right? —The talking picture that would go on to revolutionize the movie industry and relegate silent films to the history books?
R.F., not an especially commanding leader, is particularly scared of Lina. When he wants to hire Kathy, knowing that Lina had her canned from the Coconut Grove, he's unsteady. DON: “Now look, R.F. The owner of the Coconut Grove may do what Lina tells him to, but you're the head of this studio.” R.F.: “Yes, I'm the head of this studio. She's hired! But don't let Lina know.” Way to stick it to her, R.F!
Then there's the hilariously animated and long-suffering director, Roscoe Dexter, expertly worked by Mr. Torcellini, who would have had us rolling in the aisles had there been room in the theatre. While he puts on the appearance of patience and civility with Lina, his frustration is always bubbling up and overwhelming him. His artistic vision is often thwarted by Lina's clumsiness with microphones and her imperviousness to direction. Mr. Torcellini deserves much credit for personifying such an enlivened, irascible character in the show – with laugh out loud antics.
Kaine Koltoniuk and Kingson Higgins are young Don and Cosmo in flashbacks of Don’s career. The two boys are great tap dancers. Additionally, Ron Rezac played a part introducing the new Talking Picture Demonstration. The movie inserts, in which we see the vehicles for silent film stars Don and Lina as they try to make the transition to the talkies, are particularly clever.
Additionally, Zelda Zanders (Candace J. Washington) plays Lina’s silent film actress friend, Olga Mara (Clarice Ordaz, also the Dance Captain) portrays another silent film starlet, and Mary Margaret is played by Cheyenne Omani. Ethan Daniel Corbett, most recently seen in “A Chorus Line,” is Director of Musicals Sid Phillips, the Policeman is Grant Hodges, and the Tenor is Bruce Merkle. Maggie Darago plays Lady in Waiting, Kelley Dorney double-roles as Miss Dinsmore and Dora Bailey, and Adam Lendermon plays the Diction Coach.
Ensemble members are Chaz Feuerstine, Veronica Gutierrez, Tayler Mettra, Shanon Mari Mills, Theresa Murray, Samuel Shea, DJ Smith, Rodrigo Vanandas and Breanne Wilson.
Scenic Designer is John Iacovelli, Costume Design is by Shon LeBlanc, Lighting Designer is Steven Young and Sound Designer is Julie Ferrin. Properties managed by Kevin Williams, Hair/Wigs/Makeup Design is by Eb Bohks, Associate Choreographer is Clarice Ordaz, Associate Director is Cynthia Ferrer and Associate Musical Director is Brent Crayon. Stage Manager is Jill Gold and Assistant Stage Manager is Laura Rin. Publicist is David Elzer, Demand PR. Projections are by David Murakami, and Technical Direction is by Justen Asher.
“Singin’ in the Rain,” directed by Spencer Riff, continues through May 12th, with performances Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. An Open-Captioned performance is set for Saturday, May 4th at 2pm, and an ASL performance on Saturday, May 11th at 2pm. Tickets range from $20-$94; Student prices available. For tickets, please call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or purchase online at: www.lamiradatheatre.com This show has the Ultimate Recommendation!
Photo Credits: Austin Bauman
1 - Michael Starr and Brandon Burks
2 - Michael Starr, Adam Lendermon and Brandon Burks
3 - Sara King, Rodrigo Varandas, Clarice Ordaz, Michael Starr and Kelley Dorney
4 - Sara King and Candace J. Washington
5 - Michael Starr, Kimberly Immanuael and Brandon Burks
6 - Jamie Torcellini, Chaz Feuerstine, Tayler Mettra and Samuel Shea
7 - Michael Starr