Singin’ in the Rain – Review by Tom Nissley

It’s been easy, at Majestic Studios, to make dynamite silent films. The script shows on the screen, while piano music plays to build or break the emotion. The actors pantomime. The audience goes with the flow. Don Lockwood (Matthew Tiberi) and Lina Lamont (Jodi Stevens) are famous stars of the silent screen, adored by fans, and extremely popular. But Hollywood is changing. The popularity of Warner’s “Jazz Singer” makes it inevitable that Majestic must make talking pictures. And that’s a problem. Lina can pose and pantomime but when she opens her mouth a horrid dialect emerges. She cannot possibly succeed in talking pictures. That’s all you must know to prepare for this stunning production at the Summer Theatre of New Canaan.

A cast of 36 takes over as the show opens, and they stay on stage to carry the theme along. That means there’s ample reason to nominate the production as best ensemble, or more correctly, see it as the whole package that it is. Melody Libonati directs the show so that what could be throw-away moments of walk-ons for interns are integral and gracious. I love that Majestic’s stagehands glide while they are moving props, and for that matter that principals share fully in moving items out of the way when they are no longer needed. A chair here, a costume part there. All meticulously planned out either by Libonati or Choreographer Doug Shankman.

The wonderful sub-theme of the story line is that Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are portrayed as deeply in love by fan magazines and the PR department. BUT: Don is more paired with his buddy Cosmo (David Rossetti) – they’ve been chums since childhood, and are still inseparable – than he is with Lina, and more than that, while taking a walk after the premiere of “The Royal Rascal” he meets and likes Kathy Selden (Annabelle Fox) – who also turns up as the centerpiece of a cake at the celebration party. While Kathy is resisting Don’s charms, she hits at him with a piece of cake covered with whipped cream, that ends up smashing onto Lina. After that Lina hates Kathy, and Don falls for her. You will already have guessed that Don and Kathy become the real item in this Hollywood farce, and hence the happy ending.

There are some holes in the Script, but none of them get in the way. Don and Cosmo, for instance, seem like much more of an item than anyone in 19 27 cared to speak about. But ignore that and take in the many wonders. Keep an eye open for these markers. Any one of these can make the time and money worth your visit to this Summer Theatre extravaganza.

Early on, the young Don and Cosmo (either Luke Ryan, Tyler Pascarella, or Henry Tate) tapdancing together. Brilliant! Followed by a routine referred to as ‘Fit as a Fiddle’ shared by Tiberi and Rossetti, linking arms and playing each other’s violins. It makes you sit up and realize we’re dealing with talent, complete and contained, and it should earn a nomination for best dance routine ever (there isn’t a category but…). Also, for background, it fills us in on where this team of two has been on the way to Majestic Studios.

The next unforgettable moment comes when Kathy accidentally hits Lina in the face with whipped cream. I can’t even imagine the careful plotting that makes that move work. Just the design of it deserves an award, and Lina’s reaction must be one of the highlights of Jodi Stevens’ illustrious career. It’s a virtual cameo of shock and rage, pierced by her tortured dialect, not in dulcet tones. As she writhes across the stage, trying to straighten back up into ‘dignity,’ with whipped cream all over her face, it is an incredible moment of ‘theater as it ought to be.’

Within minutes, David Rossetti does his remarkable number called ‘Make ‘Em Laugh,’ a reminder of vaudeville stuff, in which his raw talent just goes at a fast pace, singing, dancing, whirling. Rossetti is so flexible – not just his face, but his entire body. It’s another gift of this production.

Followed by a number that presumably could fit here, there, or in another show, and still be enjoyed: ‘Beautiful Girl’ is a production number that showcases all the women of the ensemble and the special voice of Christopher Brian Williams. He is fabulous. They are fabulous. It’s a wow.

The next fun moments are provided by the in-show movie clips, all photographed locally at Waveny House, and featuring Don and Lina, along with Chas Timberlake as the villain. Lots and lots of fun. There is a clip that features New Canaan’s First Selectman Rob Mallozzi, as the inventor of the synchronizing mechanism that makes talking pictures talk. Great local hi-jinks.

And the dancing. Outrageous. Dance Captain Rachel MacIsaac leads the team and is listed as co-choreographer with Doug Shankman, who is one of STONC’s best treasures. All the dance routines are excellent. The one that captures hearts is a happy-faced Matt Tiberi as Don, singing and splashing in the rain that certainly does fall on stage and give the show a title.

Finally want to mention the Majestic Studios Team, Mike Boland, John Weigand, Nicholas Berke, and all the Ensemble, who bring such cohesion to the story and the production.

The set (Charles Pavarini III), the costumes (Sarita Fellows), the lighting (Devon Allen), the sound (Ian Loftis), and all the other tech contribute too.

Don’t, if you can help it, miss this fun production with its many wonderful show-stopping moments.

Tickets and information at www.stonc.org, or call 203-966-4634.

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