OREM — Change is in the air as silent films give way to “talkies.” After the wild success of The Jazz Singer, Hollywood studios are scrambling to add sound to their films, and actors must now prove that their talents can extend to their voice and singing. Yes, Singin’ in the Rain is back, this time on the SCERA amphitheater stage. With solid direction, excellent designs, and a talented cast of 42, Singin’ in the Rain is a pleasant visit to a bygone era of movies.
In Singin’ in the Rain, movie stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont face multiple career obstacles: in addition to dealing with “talkies,” their personal relationship is experiencing a great deal of friction. The tabloid press speculates that they are engaged — a possibility that Lena wants — but Don has no feelings for his on-screen partner. Into this time of change steps Kathy Seldon, an actress trying to break into the business. Don and Kathy fall in love, but to add insult to Lena’s injury, the studio proposes hiring Kathy to dub over Lena’s screeching voice.
Director DeLayne Bluth Dayton has made impeccable casting decisions for Singin’ in the Rain. The entire cast of 42 makes strong contributions to the production, and there are no inadequacies in their performances. Dayton makes good use of the space on the stage, and I adored how she can create natural scenes that show the hustle and bustle of the movie studio or a city street. She also uses background performers to add realism to a scene, just as in a film — a very appropriate staging choice for this show.
TJ Thomas stars as Don Lockwood. Thomas has a movie star’s looks and a comfortable presence on the stage. His voice is well suited for crooning the classic songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. A standout in Thomas’s performance was the title song, which he sang with unbounded joy. I appreciated Thomas’s familiarity with his co-stars. During “Good Mornin’,” Don seemed to have a genuine friendship with Cosmo Brown (played by Tanner Frederiksen). Likewise, Thomas gave Don a believable romantic relationship with Kathy, and their first kiss (during “You Were Meant For Me”) was electric.
As Kathy Seldon, Heidi Hughes gave a lovely singing performance in “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You?”. She also did what she could to bring some depth to the role, and I enjoyed her character’s reluctance to reveal that she had seen several of Don’s films. The gradual honesty Hughes showed in that moment allowed her character to cede some power in the relationship, making Don’s romantic advances in “You Were Meant For Me” seem natural. It was a scenes that Hughes carefully played, and one of the most successful subtle character moments ever seen on the SCERA Shell stage.
Bringing some comic relief to the romantic plot are Frederiksen as Cosmo Brown and Tia Trimble as Lina Lamont. Frederiksen has a strong grasp of the vaudeville-style jokes that his character often tells. Frederiksen also is successful with the physical comedy that the role demands, making the fun antics during “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the elocution lesson an enjoyable part of the show. Trimble got me chuckling with her first lines, and she never let up in her commitment to the comedy. What pleased me the most, though, was how Trimble took advantage of “What’s Wrong With Me?” to humanize Lina and make her a genuinely sympathetic character. After all, Lina is the only character in Singin’ in the Rain who is worse off at the end of Betty Comden and Adolph Green‘s script than at the beginning — and isn’t that worth some compassion for her?
Cole McClure‘s set design is the most impressive component of this production. To call it grand would be an understatement. A massive 12-step staircase leads to a backdrop painted to look like a red theater curtain that can open up to reveal a screen that shows the silent films that are critical to the plot. Embedded with small LED lights that could twinkle or form patterns, the staircase was a strong reminder of the glitz and glamor of 1920s Hollywood. The entrance to Grauman’s Chinese Theater was almost as impressive, and the street corner portion of the set even included a realistic fire hydrant.
Contributing to the historical setting of the play was the excellent costuming by Kelsey Seaver. The flapper dresses, the men’s formal wear, and even the director’s jodhpurs were constant reminders of the 1920s. Seaver had an extravagant set of costumes for the “Broadway Melody” sequence: dresses made of sheen fabric trimmed with black fringe and gold-sequined vests for women and bowties for men. They was perfect for a fantasy sequence. Capping off the gorgeous look of the production was Kelsea Smellie’s hair designs. The bobs and wavy hair on the women were all coifed perfectly, while the men had cleanly trimmed short styles that fit with the period. There was not a single 21st century hairstyle on the stage.
Singin’ in the Rain will always be a square peg in a round hole: a movie musical that tries to fit into the format of a stage musical. Still, the SCERA’s Singin’ in the Rain is a nice production that is full of pleasing moments. The show is a successful end to the company’s summer season, and it is a show worth attending, come rain or shine.