By Bill Beard
Singin’ in the Rain, the movie, came out in 1952, starring the fabulous Gene Kelly, a young Debbie Reynolds, and the wonderful Donald O’Conner. It has been rereleased a dozen times over the years and is still on the lists of “best movie musicals ever made” year after year. I was a junior in college that year, and I think I saw that film several times. Kelly’s famous performance of the title song, while dancing in a downpour, is still one of the most famous scenes from film history, and you’ll find it today in several versions on YouTube! Check it out.
But it was 30 years before the movie was made into a stage musical. Singin’ in the Rain, the musical, has been around since 1983, and has become a much loved musical comedy.
However, as it happens, I have never reviewed it. In fact, I’ve never even seen it! I almost hate to admit that. After all, it opened at the famous Paladium Theatre in London’s West End in June of 1983 while I was actually living and teaching theatre in England; and it starred one of my favorite British musical comedy stars, Tommy Steele.
Then it opened on Broadway in July of 1985 when I was living back in New England and visiting New York City several times a year. And I still didn’t see it.
Now let me further confess that in the past 30 years since then, it has probably been playing somewhere near me dozens of times. But no. Sorry. I never connected. Now that is a very serious confession for a theatre critic who has been reviewing professional theatre for the better part of 45 years!
But now….at last….I have had the opportunity to make up for my negligence! And what a great opportunity it has been. The Fireside Theatre’s current production of Comden and Green’s Singin’ in the Rain, the musical is a hit. It lives up to most of Artistic Director Ed Flesch’s shows; and this is truly a perfect audience pleaser.
The singing voices are special and the dancing terrific. Well, it has to be! Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor highlighted their dance careers with the original movie; and here at The Fireside, Matthew Dailey, in the Gene Kelly role as silent movie star Don Lockwood and Justin Brill as his comic sidekick, Cosmo Brown, keep the Fireside production at the top of the tap dance tradition, from their opening routine, Fit as a Fiddle, in exaggerated Vaudeville style (and absolutely ridiculous costumes), to their big number, Moses, a show stopping tap extravaganza (with the very talented Thomas Blake Hogan making it a tap dancing trio triumph). These guys can dance!
Dailey also sings well. He has a gorgeous voice; although at times it seems to reflect some classical training, and his lyrics sometimes are almost too ‘articulate’. He manages the ‘lover’ side of Lockwood very convincingly, but physically, his macho quality was probably better suited to his prior work in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
The role of Cosmo Brown (O’Connor in the film) is adeptly handled by the energetic Justin Brill, whose marvelous sense of comedy I remember loving in Fireside’s 2008 production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. His effervescence is contagious, and although he slightly over does his first couple of scenes, he is solid and right on target throughout the rest of the show.
The distaff side of the cast is peopled with some terrific actresses, starting with an ensemble of four beautiful singer-dancers, who handle multiple roles throughout. The Debbie Reynolds role of “trying to break into Broadway” Kathy Selden is expertly played by the charming Gabrielle Harker in her Fireside debut; she easily keeps pace with Mr. Dailey and Mr. Brill in the extensive dance trios.
But the real scene-stealer is the marvelous Abby Hart as Lina Lamont, the screechy-voiced silent-screen mega-star, who is determined to follow her matinee idol partner (Lockwood) right into their new career in Hollywood’s latest innovation, the Talkies! Ms. Hart turns this too often one-dimensional character into a multi-faceted hilarious comic bitch. She‘s wonderful. [She also has the figure to do justice to the stunning costumes of Robert Fletcher and Robin Buerger.]
Of course anyone who knows this show looks forward to the big Act I closing number, the piece de resistance, Lockwood’s dancing in the rain. One might wonder how Director Flesch could manage that on the Fireside’s small central stage space. But never fear! You’ll love it!
As usual, the production depends greatly on the quality of the choreography and the music; and as always, this show is blessed with the Musical Direction of Mary Ehlinger and the Choreography of Chicago’s Shanna Vanderwerker.
Obviously, I am thrilled to have….at last….had this chance to enjoy the stage musical version of one of my favorite films, Singin’ in the Rain. And I assure you I won’t miss the next opportunity.
As it happens, a brand new production of Singin’ in the Rain, the musical is coming to Broadway soon. It will be starring the extremely popular star of Dancing With The Stars, Derek Hough, who has been Mirror Ball winner several times. This is a new production which was originated in Paris last year at the famous Theatre du Chatelet and is now being brought to New York by Broadway producer, Harvey Weinstein. I’m sure it will eventually come to Chicago on tour.
Meanwhile, The Fireside’s own current production of Singin’ in the Rain is definitely a “feel good” family show; and is not to be missed! It plays through September 4. For details call 800-477-9505; or visit firesidetheatre.com.