It’s difficult to appreciate how tough SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is to put on the stage until you’re watching it from the audience. This is a rare musical where the stage show followed the movie (by 30 years). An attempt to recreate the iconic film scenes would be a daunting task for any theatre. The Players Club of Swarthmore is up to the challenge. PCS’s production is smartly directed, well-performed and thoroughly entertaining in its own right. The plot involving movie stars’ comical attempts to transition from silent films to “talkies” is familiar so, rather than rehash it, I’ll get right to the review.
The performances are solid overall. As the endearing Don Lockwood, Kevin Dietzler is a capable triple threat—a fine actor and singer and an even stronger dancer. More than once, Dietzler smoothly shifts from a vigorous tap number to a dialogue scene without losing a beat (or his breath). Allison Gerrard adeptly portrays his love interest Kathy Selden with resolve. She holds her own in a show where the male characters tend to dominate. Most impressive is Stephen Langley as the carefree Cosmo Brown. Langley consistently exudes both charisma and sly charm in his lines and expressions, and proves skilled at physical comedy. He kept the audience in stitches during “Make ‘em Laugh”, even though he had few props to work with onstage. Kristina Psitos as a silent film diva and Alan M. Alvarez as an overzealous movie producer provide additional laughs.
The catchy vocals are full and powerful and mostly match well with the vibrant orchestra. But the runaway star of this production is the intricate, intensive and absolutely engaging choreography by Bridget Thompson. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN contains a crazy amount of dancing, enveloping much more than just the title song. Yet despite this hurdle, the dancing and tapping by the principals and the ensemble alike remain fresh and sharp through the finale. This clearly is the result of a thoroughly rehearsed production. Several times during opening night the audience burst into applause in the middle of a number because the dancing was just that great.
Director Brian M. Walsh keeps everything moving along at a nice clip. Despite the numerous different scenes, no scene change lasted longer than five seconds. Typically one scene takes place in front of a downstage black curtain with a minimal set while a more elaborate scene is being set up behind the curtain. The flip-side to these swift transitions is, well, half the show takes place in front of a black curtain. Still, the trade-off is worthwhile.
There are some notable aspects to the more intricate parts of the set. Yes, it really rains onstage, which is very cool, and pretty remarkable that the cast is able to dance in it. Also praiseworthy are the vintage black and white movie scenes previously recorded and interspersed into the production. They look authentic and are hilarious.
There was a bit of hesitation from some of the principals on opening night. Also, at times enunciation during songs was lacking, making it difficult to understand all the lyrics. Both of these minor issues dissipated halfway through the first act, so they likely can be chalked up to opening night jitters and may not replicate themselves in the remaining performances. One issue that cannot be easily resolved is that, presumably due to the rain effect, Dietzler’s mic is abruptly switched off during the title number, which unfortunately reduces the song’s vigor. To her credit, talented conductor and music director Jackie Serratore does her best to keep the orchestra soft.
A final note, and this credit goes to the director. This show takes place at a time when Hollywood was trying to find its footing. The addition of sound to film threw the movie business into a frenzy, and extravagance was added to movies simply to create extravagance. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is a somewhat self-satirizing musical. Tap dancing is interspersed into a dramatic film about the French Revolution because, to paraphrase the movie producer, people like tap dancing. Walsh’s directing highlights the small but important satirizing details (including the ridiculousness of three production assistants being given the same job—“Quiet on the set!”).
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN runs through December 13, a Friday, which is unusual. To compensate, PCS has added a Wednesday performance on December 11, so, if the latter parts of your weeks are busy with holiday events and preparations, you have a mid-week opportunity to catch this charming production.
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green
Lyrics by Arthur Freed
Music by Nacio Herb Brown
Directed by Brian M. Walsh
November 29 – December 13, 2013
The Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081