On the evening of the day that this year’s Oscar nominations were revealed, the steeped-in-movies musical Singin’ in the Rain had its opening-night performance at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. Huge faux Oscars adorn each side of the proscenium, with big film reels bridging the two, and theatergoers settle into their seats thinking they’re about to experience a great stage version of the superb 1952 movie musical.
But that’s not how Singin’ in the Rain at the Maltz plays out.
A coproduction with the Fulton Theatre of Lancaster, Pa., the show has plenty of professional polish, leading actors who sing well and dance even better, and an array of dazzling costumes (by Anthony Lascoskie Jr.) appropriate to the musical’s late 1920s Hollywood setting. But director-choreographer Marc Robin’s approach to the musical is so stylized that there’s barely a genuine or emotionally involving moment from start to finish. Truth be told, the theatrical version doesn’t begin to approach the excellence of the movie.
Singin’ in the Rain, you may recall, is about the successful silent movie team of Don Lockwood (Curt Dale Clark) and Lina Lamont (Emily Stockdale). The actors’ on-screen chemistry sizzles, but it’s clear from the get-go that former vaudeville song-and-dance man Don has no use for the glamorous Lina, a self-absorbed gal whose grating speaking voice sounds like Betty Boop after a bender — not a problem until The Jazz Singer ushers in the sound movie era.
The plot, which is really a way to stitch together big musical numbers, gives Don a new love interest in chorus girl Kathy Selden (Lauren Blackman) and a hoofer-sidekick Cosmo Brown (Brian Shepard). Together the three make sure that stuck-on-herself Lina eventually gets her comeuppance in the most public way possible.
With a script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (based on their MGM movie screenplay) and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, Singin’ in the Rain is packed with such well-known songs as Stepped Out of a Dream, You Are My Lucky Star, Good Mornin’ and the splashy title number, which literally gets dancing Don and many of the folks sitting in the front of the orchestra section quite wet (the theater supplies plastic ponchos to protect audience outfits and hairdos). Black-and-white film of Don and Lina at work (successfully in silent movies, disastrously in a talkie) add variety to the show’s scenes, which tend to be brief.
Clark, who must compete with the memory of the incomparable Gene Kelly as Don, is a good singer-dancer, but his grinning Don is about as genuine as a $3 bill. Blackman is a graceful dancer and lovely singer who makes Kathy most appealing. Shepard is one fabulous tap dancer, and as Don’s dancing pal, he’s rubbery and funny. Stockdale nails the dumb blond with the horrific voice, perhaps too well: her Lina grows real old real fast. As does this cartoonish version of Singin’ in the Rain.