PERRY — The transfer of a popular movie musical to the stage typically has less than stellar results. I have been underwhelmed by shows like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and a lot of the Disney Broadway musicals, such as Mary Poppins. The problem usually lies in the new material added to flesh out the show from the movie. I typically walk away thinking “there’s a reason they didn’t have that song in the movie.” Fortunately, this is not the case with the Broadway adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain. I’ve seen this adaptation many times, and it never fails to delight and entertain. Such is the case with the new production at the Heritage Theatre in Perry, Utah.
This version of Singin’ in the Rain is pretty close to the classic film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, which is probably the reason why it works so well. It features story by Betty Comden and Adolph Green (as does the movie), music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed. The two new songs for the musical are “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “What’s Wrong with Me?” which fit in well with the rest of the score. If I did not know otherwise, I would think they were always part of Singin’ in the Rain.
The Heritage Theatre’s production is bolstered by a strong cast: particularly the two male leads: Ben Lowell as Don Lockwood and David Atkinson as Cosmo Brown. I particularly enjoyed Atkinson’s comic timing and the energy he throws into routines like “Make ‘Em Laugh.” Lowell has a ton of charisma with a lovely tenor voice and is believable as our movie star leading man. I also enjoyed Sheri Riser as Lina Lamont. Riser throws herself into the role, and the shrill Lina voice often produces laughs from the audience. Costume designer Gena Lott also gives Lina the best looks of the show, with a particularly beautiful dress in the final scene at the movie premiere.
In the program, director Megan Worthen Nelson says she “can’t guarantee a replica of the movie, but I can guarantee fun,” and she succeeds in fulfilling that promise. Singin’ in the Rain is definitely a fun show with romance, laughs and great song and dance numbers. However, I do think there are times when Nelson perhaps stayed too close to the movie and could have given the production its own personality. For instance, in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” she gave Cosmo a dummy to play off of, just as in the movie. This is fine, but I challenge the Heritage Theatre to be more creative in staging shows. Especially with such a classic, a production is never going to equal the movie so it is probably best to do something different anyway.
Of course, everyone wants to know how a theatre company pull off the rain at a small venue like Heritage. While it is more of a drizzle than I have seen from other productions, it certainly gets the job done, and Lowell is so good tap dancing to Maryn Taylor’s choreography that it works.
Like I said, Lott’s costumes, particularly for Lina, were strong. The only section I didn’t understand is “Broadway Melody,” where all of the ensemble was dressed in strange outfits, including one actor as a devil and another dressed as an egg. Also, the sets and backgrounds (which have no credited designer) remain stagnant the entire play when the production team could have added a few props to differentiate scenes. For example, Lina’s “What’s Wrong with Me?” number is just her on stage alone without anything for her to play off of or interact with.
One disappointment with my first visit to the Heritage Theatre was the disruptive behavior of some of the children in the audience. It’s a shame the children in my audience were so disruptive because I actually think seeing Singin’ in the Rain at Heritage would be a great family activity. While it is a wonderful experience for children to attend local theatre and get excited about the art form, I implore parents to take time to discuss theatre etiquette with their children and ensure that young audience members are ready for the experience. The children behind me at Heritage were extremely disruptive talking loudly, moving around, and kicking my chair. I understand that most children do not act perfectly, but I hope that parents can do their part to ensure that everyone can have a pleasant experience as an audience member.
There were a few technical gaffes with the movie aspects of the show, but the technical staff (probably under the supervision of technical director Greg Lemke) and actors did a great job creating the silent film segments. One memorable moment was the iconic scene when the audio gets out of sync with the film; it was executed with enough camp for it to be a particularly funny.
Watching a musical like Singin’ in the Rain at Heritage Theatre is everything I want in a local community theatre production. Sure, it is not perfect, but the performances are full of energy, and the material is so strong that it just works. Anyone within driving distance of Perry should getting a ticket and supporting this strong effort to tell a beloved classic story. Nothing should stop anyone from enjoying some dancin’ and singin’ in the rain.