WASHINGTON TERRACE — When looking back to the Golden Age of the huge Hollywood musical, few performers spring to mind ahead of Gene Kelly, and few movies burst into bigger than the technicolor classic Singin’ in the Rain. With its fantastic score (with music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed) and amazing choreography, the film burst onto the screen in 1952. But it took more than 40 years for it to be adapted for the stage, no doubt due to the overwhelming technical challenges. After all, the script (written by Adolph Green and Betty Comden) does call for rain onstage.
Beverly’s Terrace Plaza Playhouse is the latest theatre group to tackle this favorite, and they do a lovely job. From the opening scene, the costumes (designed by Jacci Florence, Tami Richardson, Jim Tatton, Jamila Lowe, and Stephanie Petersen) are stunning and appealing, one after another, as the old favorite movie stars arrive at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the premiere of The Royal Rascal, starring Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont.
The Royal Rascal, as well as all the film segments in this show, are cleverly done and so fun. These scenes harkened back to an earlier time and place and boosted the storytelling. As portrayed in this production, it is easy to see how film acting styles had to change after sound arrived in Hollywood. Terrace Plaza’s actors were excellent in showing how the overacting, over-the-top style of silent films compared to the more realistic options when the actors could tell their story through speech. Kudos to Steve Petersen and Tyler Cahoon for their excellent work on filming, editing, and projections.
Nicholas Balaich and Margaret Dibble Simon had the monumental task of stepping into the iconic roles of Don Lockwood (originally played by Gene Kelly) and Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds in the film), but these two local actors do an admirable job. Their vocals, especially during the ballads, were lovely. Well-known tunes such as “You Were Meant for Me” and “Would You” were beautifully brought back to life by Balaich and Simon. Likewise, Whitney Cahoon, as Lina Lamont, put her own spin on this iconic character, and did a nice job finding the humor, pathos, and wiliness of this actress who stands to lose so much with the advent of the talkies. Her song “What’s Wrong with Me” was always a favorite of the evening.
Zackery George, as everyone’s favorite sidekick Cosmo Brown, was well cast in this familiar Donald O’Connor part. George has the energy, facials, and physicality that is well suited for this role. George is charming, silly, snide, and disarming all at the same time. His take on “Make ‘Em Laugh” was breath taking; I don’t know how he was able to sing at the end of it. George and Balaich were good foils for one another and were an entertaining duo to watch. Other impressive actors included are David Nielsen as film director Roscoe Dexter, and Carla Zarate as Miss Dinsmore, Lina’s diction coach. I also must mention the outstanding vocal performance of the soloist in “Beautiful Girl.” The program credits Andy Conlin, but on this particular night the understudy, Alex Young, filled that role. His clear tenor voice soared over the high notes and all but stopped the show.
The set design by Dennis Ferrin, who also directed the play, was clever and utilitarian, including scenery walls that flipped and making good use of the various playing spaces in the theater. The high point of Act One is of course the famous “Sing’ in the Rain” number, danced by Balaich in an actual rain storm. The rain was cleverly engineered by Brent Taft and was a wonderful and unexpected addition to the production. The choreography by Dede Williams and Kemarie Jorgensen was light-footed and fun. The ensemble numbers were colorful and enjoyable, and “Broadway Melody” was particularly exciting and vibrant. “Good Morning,” which showcased Cosmo, Don, and Kathy, was delightful.
The only major drawback to the production was that the underscoring was a little too loud in the opening scene with Dora Bailey, and there were one or two issues with microphones cutting out, but those are easily adjusted and isolated incidents.
Singin’ in the Rain is not a show that Utah theatre companies often put on, and this production is a treat. Make some time to get to the Terrace Plaza Playhouse to see this gem, relive the old memories and enjoy the new life that the cast and crew have breathed into it.