BRT’s Solid WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING Glimpses into Film History

by Walter Bender
Zak Edwards (Stanley Donen), Liz Filios (Debbie Reynolds) & Charles Osborne (Gene Kelly)

Zak Edwards (Stanley Donen), Liz Filios (Debbie Reynolds) & Charles Osborne (Gene Kelly) in BRT’s WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING. Photo credit: BRT Staff.

Bristol Riverside Theater’s latest production, WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING, is billed as a musical. What it is, more correctly, is a play with music and a fascinating glimpse into the past—and it all makes for a very enjoyable evening.

WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING is the story of the love triangle between Gene Kelly (Charles Osborne), Jeanne Coyne (Summer Broyhill) and Stanley Donen (Zak Edwards) during the filming of the 1952 film Singin’ In the Rain. Kelly we all know—the dashing dancer who starred in a multitude of movie musicals in the 1940s and 1950s. Jeanne Coyne was Kelly’s assistant choreographer for many of his pictures. Stanley Donen was a director and choreographer who worked often with Kelly. At least in this production Kelly credited himself with giving Donen his start. Coyne and Donen were married, and had recently divorced, creating tension on the set, as did the still-married Kelly’s undisguised growing love for Coyne.

WHAT A GLORIOUS FEELING opens in a rehearsal studio, with Kelly working on the choreography for “Broadway Melody/Broadway Rhythm” with Kenny, the rehearsal pianist and songwriter. Charles Osborne does an amazing job of capturing Kelly’s signature moves from the picture, and also captures the audience’s heart immediately. They are soon joined by Donen, and the pair sing and dance (and DANCE!) through “Tongue Twisters”. Edwards is a very skilled dancer, and he works very well with Osborne as a foil for Kelly’s ego. Coyne joins the duo, and the trio showcase their dancing and singing skills while trying to work through the emotional issues that none of them can truly express vocally. Broyhill is a beautifully expressive dancer.

Charles Osborne (Gene Kelly). photo credit BRT STAFF

Charles Osborne as Gene Kelly. Photo credit: BRT Staff.

As the play progresses, we also meet Arthur Freed (Vincent D’Elia), the film’s producer at MGM. D’Elia plays Freed as the consummate problem solver, smoothing over wounded egos, bringing in talent for the production and keeping the movie schedule on time as best he can. He brings in a young Debbie Reynolds (Liz Filios) to join Kelly to learn “Good Morning”, and Kelly relentlessly berates her lack of dancing skill, yet with the help of Donen she succeeds. Filios is very solid as the young Reynolds, a shy girl thrust into a world much larger than she could have imagined.

The stars of this show are the dancers, to be sure, but also the music. Fans of Kelly and of MGM musicals, especially Singin’ In the Rain, will love this production. The choreography, captured beautifully by Stephen Casey, has much of the movie’s look to it while making it work for the play. The songs are familiar  from the movie, and the actors perform them with joy and energy. Director Susan D. Atkinson allows the show to drive the action, and moves the story along at a brisk yet unrushed pace.

The end of the show, as you might expect, is a homage to Kelly’s iconic work in the title song of the movie, with the cast “watching a rush” of the day’s shooting, and Osborne performing some of Kelly’s choreography behind them in a cleverly-provided set. A beautiful way to end a beautiful production. This is a can’t miss show for anyone who loves old movie musicals and film history. Congratulations to all involved in this production.

Book by Jay Berkow
Directed by Susan D. Atkinson
October 30-November 18, 2012
Bristol Riverside Theatre
120 Radcliffe Street
Bristol, PA 19007

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