SALEM — Over a year in the making, the Salem Community Theater production of Singin’ in the Rain has finally made it to the stage. It is a charming show that delivers oodles of nostalgia, as its eager cast sings, acts, and tap dances its way through the show.
The stage version of Singin’ in the Rain follows the story of the 1952 film rather closely. The play (with its script by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, music by Nacio Herb Brown, and lyrics by Arthur Freed) opens with the premiere of a silent film starring Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont. The two are linked romantically in the Hollywood press, but they actually despise each other. When talkies debut, Don’s and Lina’s careers are thrown into turmoil because of Lina’s screechy speaking voice. To fix that problem, up-and-coming novice actress Kathy Selden is drafted to dub Lina’s voice in her new film. Complicating matters is a blooming romance between Don and Kathy — and Lina’s passionate disdain for Kathy.
Sam Bennett stars in this production as Don Lockwood, and he has the stage presence to handle the role well. Bennett is a suave leading man, and he switches between the stage and silent film acting styles seamlessly. He can also turn on the charm offensive, and the romantic scenes when Don woos Kathy (especially “You Were Meant For Me”) would sweep any woman off her feet.
Jessica Ashby is the other half of the leading romantic couple, and she is just a pleasure to watch. Whether she is effortlessly tap dancing through “Good Morning,” or singing the simple melody of “Would You,” Ashby is one of the production’s greatest strengths. Ashby’s most effective moments, though, are when Kathy tries to hide her feelings about Don. Ashby clearly understands the subtext of those scenes, and she uses her body language and facial expressions to communicate much more than her lines do.
Monson McKay plays the couple’s third wheel, Cosmo Brown. McKay is an enthusiastic actor, especially in “Make ‘Em Laugh” and in the scenes when dealing with Lena. He clearly enjoys his scenes, and that enjoyment is infectious. In the role of Lena Lamont, Michelle Adams never gets lazy with the character’s grating voice. Adams also portrays Lena’s growing jealousy in a realistic manner, which gives the character a measure of depth. Both McKay and Adams are well cast as character actors in their roles.
Director Marcus Williams has built a unified cast that functions well together. Williams is able to create large group scenes and smaller, intimate scenes with equal effectiveness. The filming scenes were the most fun to watch, and the difference in demeanor and focus between the on-camera actors and the off-camera production personnel were an appreciated detail. However, in other scenes, I wish that the piano had been turned away from the audience so that it was not as obvious that Cosmo was not really playing piano.
Singin’ in the Rain had two choreographers: Kaeli Dance and Kelsey Phillips Harrison. Many of the dance numbers, including “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Good Mornin’,” are close copies of the dances in the same songs in the film. While I wished for more originality, the dance numbers deliver the spectacle that audiences expect from Singin’ in the Rain. There really is something special about watching a man tap dance in front of you while wearing a suit and splashing in the water.
One component of the production that particularly impressed me was the costumes, designed by Nadine Low. Her designs transport the audience back to a more glamorous time, when women wore nylons and relaxed dressing for men meant rolling up their sleeves and removing their tie. There was also a distinct difference between the costumes the characters wore while performing (for “Gotta Dance,” or “All I Do Is Dream of You,” for example) and those they wore in their everyday life. The former always had a unified color palette and often included sequins, which livened up the scenes.
With a cast of 25, the Salem Community Theater production of Singin’ in the Rain is leaner than most arts council productions, but it is a show that works. It has fewer rough edges that many arts council productions, and I hope that Salem residents catch its final performance on Monday so that they can admire the talent in their town — and take a stroll through yesteryear.