Resurrecting a Classic
Over the past few decades there’s been a lot of cross-pollination between films and live-theater musicals (Disney thrives on that). Some have worked and some haven’t. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the two — film and theater — work with a different set of standards and requirements. What works on the screen might not work on the stage, and vice versa. The film version of Rent was a bomb and The Phantom of the Opera was often painful to watch.
So, what do you do if you decide to bring what has been called the best movie musical of the twentieth century onto the stage? Well, you don’t try to beat the film at its own game, and that’s just what the Summer Theatre of New Canaan has done in staging Singin’ in the Rain. Unlike Goodspeed’s effort of several years ago, which attempted to recreate the filmic experience, STONC has accepted that this is a stage production and, by and large, given the confines of the venue, it works.
What becomes apparent early on is that the book, based on the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is slight and not designed to capture attention. If you haven’t seen the film (is there anyone who hasn’t?), you may not know — or care — about what is happening up on the stage for the first ten or 15 minutes, primarily because there’s no real sense that what you’re seeing is occurring in a Hollywood film studio or its environs. It also doesn’t help that a lot of the exposition, such as it is, occurs extreme stage right — it’s like a visual after-thought. However, once the main characters — Don Lockwood (Matthew Tiberi), Cosmo Brown (David Rossetti), Lina Lamont (Jodi Stevens) and Kathy Selden (Annabelle Fox) — are established, the book really doesn’t matter because the musical numbers and choreography take center stage (figuratively and literally), and the rest of the evening is simply a lot of fun.
What — or who — drives the show? Well, that’s an easy question to answer. It’s Jodi Stevens playing the part of the bitchy, vocally challenged, clueless actress Lina Lamont. Stevens, who was recently seen in MTC’s production of the one-woman show, I’ll Eat You Last, shines and glitters in her character’s sheer acting ineptitude, and her solo song late in the second act, “What’s Wrong With Me?” (not in the film as released but in the London revival), is a surprising delight.
The other three leads, supported by a substantial cast, seem to come alive only in the production numbers, although many of these numbers are not framed as well as they could be, so all you can do is enjoy the music and dancing and not worry too much about logic (or, otherwise, draw on your memory of the film to answer the question: “Where are we?”). This is true of “Beautiful Girl” and “The Broadway Melody,” both big numbers that please on a very basic level.
Actually, this production, under the direction of Melody Libonati, with choreography by Doug Shankman, feels more like a revue, and as such it is very enjoyable. There’s a musical number, then a bit of yadda-yadda, then another musical number. The numbers, backed by a 10-piece orchestra, are staged with style and grace, and kudos should go to Shankman for not slavishly following the original film choreography (although the obligatory sofa, again set stage right, in the “Good Morning” number, is, well, obligatory rather than integral to the number) . Kudos should also go to Kelly Loughran (her role was danced in the film by Cyd Charisse). Her femme fatale routine in “Broadway Melody” is one of the high points of the show. Finally, the filmed portions of the show — both silent and ineptly miked — are dead-on and ably capture the style of the 1920s (again, kudos to Stevens).
You may not care much about what happens to the characters in Singin’ in the Rain (save for what Lena experiences — and remember, she’s not stupid!), but you will enjoy the songs they sing and the dance numbers they perform, and that’s enough to provide a lovely summer evening of theater in Connecticut — and, yes, there’s rain and a lot of umbrellas and yellow rain slickers.
“Singin’ in the Rain” runs through July 30. For tickets or more information call 203-966-4634 or go to www.stonc.org