SANDY — As a teenager, one of my friends was shocked to learn that I had never seen the film Singin’ in The Rain. She quickly rectified that and the film became one of my top five favorite musicals. As much as I love the film, I had never seen the stage adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain until last night when I attended the Hale Center Theatre production directed by Dave Tinney.
Singin’ in the Rain follows the career of several actors and actresses during the 1920’s transition from silent movies to talkies: Don Lockwood, his friend Cosmo Brown, love interest Kathy Selden, and costar Lina Lamont. The film, starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, was released in 1952, with screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.
I loved that Don Lockwood (played by Zack Wilson) was evenly matched by Kathy Selden (played by Whitney Hatch). It did not feel like they were trying to outperform each other, but rather that they were a team. In “Made For Each Other” and “Broadway Rhythm,” I enjoyed how the songs showcased both Wilson’s and Hatch’s abilities. And of course, “Good Morning” was so much fun when Cosmo Brown joined the mix. The trio had a great blend of talent, humor, and charm.
My favorite character from Singin’ in the Rain has always been Cosmo Brown, and so I had high expectations for Dale Hoopes as Cosmo. Hoopes was everything I had wanted with his high energy and comedic timing. I also loved that he made Cosmo his own and did not merely recreate Donald O’Connor’s performance. His attitude towards and imitations of Lina Lamont had me in stitches. Hoopes’s charisma and quirks were perfect for Cosmo.
Lina Lamont was played by Elise Pearce. She did well at being believable at not being good at singing in the recordings, but then she turned around and managed to sing “What’s Wrong With Me” in her character’s very nasally voice while staying in tune, making me laugh instead of cringe. I loved that the audience first got to see how insecure Lina really was about her situation and then see how power went to her head. I think this production and Pearce gave me a love of Lina that I did not fully have before. Pearce helped give Lina some redeeming qualities.
One of things I love about live theatre are the little “flaws” that turn into fun moments. I love seeing how performers handle prop and costume malfunctions. To me this is what makes theatre real and sets it apart from film that would edit out the mistakes. For example, during the “Broadway Rhythm” number Kathy Selden lost her flapper headpiece. When Cosmo Brown came running across the stage he scooped it up. I would have thought that would be the end of it, and that it would disappear backstage, However, he kept it with him and as the number ended he acted surprised to find it in his front pocket, and quickly hid it behind his back so that his employers would not ask questions. It was a delightful little moment that only live theatre brings.
The choreography for this production by Dave Tinney and Lindsey D. Smith was excellent and recreated the original choreography from the film. I was especially impressed with the way the choreography from “Fit As A Fiddler” and “Make ‘Em Laugh” maintained so much of the film’s choreography while adapting for theatre in the round. My biggest complaint with the dancing is not actually about the choreography itself, but rather about the lighting. There were multiple occasions, especially during “You Were Meant For Me,” where the spotlight was so tight that I could not see the dancers’ footwork, which was a shame. Also, many times, especially in large group numbers, the tapping rhythms were covered up by the volume of the music, instead of allowing the taps to enhance the music. Other than the tight spotlights the light design by Jaron Hermansen was magical, especially during “You Were Meant For Me” and “My Lucky Star.” I also enjoyed how projections were used on the floor in so many parts of the show, turning the floor into a backdrop and not just a floor.
Before the Hale Centre Theatre production officially started and the audience was still filing in, a large backdrop stretched across the stage floor, where several actors portraying scenic artists appeared to be working. As a former scenic artist, I had to chuckle as one of the painters was using a big brush for detail work. He also had a cup of paint that the brush could barely fit in. I was not the only one chuckling about it; the general contractor sitting on the other side of my husband also found the brush size to be comical. Another small detail that was distracting later happened during RF’s party. One of the servers was using a hat to hide long hair. The hat was really out of place as servers during that time period would not have been wearing a work hat while serving at a fancy party.
Singin’ in the Rain is demanding in the technical aspects. This is certainly true with the use of film projections and sound (sound design by Michelle Ohumukini). I was impressed with how synchronized the sound and film were. For example, when Kathy is recording “You Are My Lucky Star,” and dubbing Lina’s voice, she was able to perfectly match the recording that was played back. Also the lip syncing scenes and the voice overs were always perfectly matched. Additionally, I appreciated that — rather than just playing the silent films that were premiering on the screens that encircled the room — more screens were lowered and put the action center stage rather than on the outskirts.
There was so much to love with this production of Singin’ in the Rain and so much to see. I could probably attend it many more times and not catch all of the wonderful little moments and details found among the designs and the performances. I love attending shows where the audience around me ooohs and aaahs over the magic of the technicians and designers. And at Hale Centre Theatre’s Singin’ in the Rain, there were plenty of ooohs and aaahs.