Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Who Will Carry the Word?
The plot focuses on popular silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, who are also rumored in the gossip columns to be an off-screen couple even though Don has no feelings for Lina. When the first "talking picture," The Jazz Singer, is released to huge success, the studio decides to turn Don and Lina's next film into a talkie. The only problem? Lina's shrill, harsh voice isn't exactly sound film material and their next movie is already booked to be released in six weeks. Fortunately, Don's best friend Cosmo Brown and ingénue Kathy Selden, whom Don has fallen in love with, come up with an idea they think can save the film.
The stage adaptation is almost an exact scene by scene reproduction of the 1952 film. But, since the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green is exceptional and there are an abundance of upbeat, memorable tunes from Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, it's a good thing they didn't tinker with the script. The only major change is the addition of a solo number for Lina that gives her some added comic material.
Cambrian James' superb direction keeps the pace brisk and the comedy sharp yet also ensures the romance and serious moments resonate. There are numerous iconic screen images from the film and James manages to beautifully recreate many of them, including a few that got applause at the opening night performance. James' cast is excellent and his choreography is non-stop, with the entire group delivering expertly danced, infectious steps. While the two male leads are much younger than Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor, who created the roles of Don and Cosmo on screen, the trio of lead actors bring so much youthful joy and exuberance to their parts that you quickly forget how young they are and how a 20-year-old actor playing Don wouldn't quite have been able to make as many films that the show says he has.
As Don, Vaughn Sherman is full of charm and delivers an engaging portrayal of a young man who is head over heels in love with Kathy. From being the stand-offish young girl when she first meets Don to the determined young woman who wants to fight for both her and the studio's success, Abbi Cavanaugh creates a lovely portrayal of Kathy. Sherman and Cavanaugh have realistic onstage chemistry and bright singing voices that excel on their many numbers. Allan DeWitt is engaging, witty, playful, and very rambunctious as Cosmo. His "Make 'Em Laugh" solo is a major crowd pleaser and expertly staged by James in the round to ensure all four sides of the audience get a good view of the many gags in the number. Sherman and DeWitt have some major dance numbers in the show, including a fast-paced "Moses Supposes" that has constantly changing tap steps, and they both deliver winning and high-spirited routines.
Erica Parrish is simply superb as Lina Lamont, who Cosmo jokingly states is a triple threat since she can't act, sing or dance. Parrish's harsh accent is hilarious and she manages to make Lina entirely lovable. In the supporting cast, Joey Morrison and Matthew R. Harris bring plenty of laughs to the roles of the studio boss and the film's director, with Harris' deadpan line delivery very funny. Charity Johansen and Nathan Spector get some good moments to shine as the gossip columnist and two of the diction coaches, and Julian Mendoza's soaring voice excels on the solo of "Beautiful Girls."
Brian Daily's set elements, which include gorgeous painted walls that surround the audience and feature the Hollywood sign, palm trees, and other famous Los Angeles sites, are excellent. His rain deck, which covers almost the entire stage floor for the act one finale of the title song, ensures that Sherman gets drenched by the end of the song while also including just about every iconic image from that famous screen number. Costumer Tia Hawkes' bevy of bright, colorful outfits includes gorgeous evening gowns and crisp suits and tuxedos, and Tim Dietlein's lighting creates attractive stage images with bright colors and shadows. Lincoln Wright's music direction delivers lovely sounds from the cast. Lindsey Leigh Harper has designed funny video designs for the few film segments in the show.
Singin' in the Rain is both a lovable reminder of how much fun a musical can be and also a comical satire of Hollywood's transition from silent movies to the era of sound films. While the stage adaptation of the film may be a scene for scene reproduction of the film, when you have an excellent cast and superb creative elements, as in Hale's production, it is an entirely warm, winning, hilarious and lovable stage musical.
Singin' in the Rain, through March 30, 2019, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling 480-497-1181.
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James