Singin’ in the Rain opened this week at the Ordway, the last production in what the performing arts center refers to as their “season-long celebration of the American Dream.”
Singin’ in the Rain tells the story of silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont. The year is 1927 and the first talking film has just been made. Monumental Pictures decides to make a talking picture with Don and Lina. The problem is that Lina’s voice, despite the best efforts of diction coaches, will not pass muster. The decision is made to use the voice of aspiring actress Kathy Selden to dub Lina’s vocals. Problems develop when Lina becomes jealous of Don’s affection for Kathy and she decides to keep Kathy behind the scenes permanently.
It is interesting that the Ordway decided to include both Irving Berlin’s White Christmas and Singin’ in the Rain in the same season. There are many similarities between the two stories. Both are based on famous movies that were known for their singing and dancing, both stories take place in simpler times, both stories tell the story of a show within a show featuring budding romance and intrigue, and both shows include big production numbers. When compared to White Christmas, though, Singin’ in the Rain suffers.
|singin’ in the rain, presented through june 28 at the ordway center for the performing arts, 345 washington st., st. paul. for tickets ($27-$75) and information, see ordway.org.|
The production overall is certainly first-rate, with wonderful costumes and great sets. Michael Gruber as Don, Christina Saffran Ashford as Kathy, and Tony Vierling as Don’s partner and music producer are all excellent; their version of “Good Mornin'” is one of the highlights of the show. Ashford and Gruber have played these roles in previous productions and they have great chemistry. Vierling holds his own in the demanding slapstick production of “Make ‘Em Laugh” that was made famous by Donald O’Connor in the 1952 movie. The first act ends with Gruber cavorting in “real” rain, splashing through the puddles, and swinging around the lamppost while he sings. The onstage rain has been much-hyped and did not disappoint, with the audience clearly expressing their delight. The finale brought back the rain, the song, and the full company in yellow slickers and red umbrellas.
Although there were many parts of this production that were entertaining, I felt that the story was hard to follow. The second act in particular, depicting a Broadway opening, was very confusing. I figured out that they were actually filming part of the movie (in Hollywood), but my sister thought that Don had actually left Hollywood to try his luck on the stage in New York. Then the dreamy “Broadway Ballet” followed just two scenes later—did Kathy actually come out to New York to lure Don back to the movie set to finish his movie? It would certainly have helped if one of us had seen the movie and knew the plot.
Other than the few songs I recognized, I did not find that the music added much to the story—and I did not feel that the choreography, originally done by Gene Kelly, was very ambitious. That said, anyone who loved the movie will find this staging of that story entirely satisfactory and enjoyable. If you have not seen the movie, you might want to do so before you go.
Jean Gabler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is program director for undergraduate business programs at the University of St. Thomas.
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