While certain memes and moments of the endless pop-culture carousel come and go, some works of art simply refuse to be forgotten. One of these is “Singin’ in the Rain,” the title song of which, especially, will be hummed until the end of time.
While “Singin’ in the Rain” first came to our attention via the Gene Kelly-starring smash in 1952, the newest iteration of the Betty Comden and Adolph Green-written musical, with music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed, is now playing at the La Mirada Theatre until May 12th (it had a brief engagement earlier this month at The Soraya on the campus of Cal State Northridge). Directed and choreographed by Broadway’s Spencer Liff, who is known for his work behind the scenes for “Falsettos” and “Head Over Heels,” this “Singin’ in the Rain” is comedy, dance, and singing at its purest and most unadulterated form. Not to mention, rain will triumphantly fall during the titular Act I-closing number and even one more time after that. It’s a sight that is guaranteed to enchant, not because it’s a cheap gimmick, but it’s yet another terrific complement to a well-articulated presentation.
Borrowing from elements of reality and fiction, the plot is easy to follow and focuses on the historical changeover from silent films to talking pictures, led by the very first one, “The Jazz Singer,” in 1927. This development affects Monumental Studios’ reigning onscreen couple of the hitherto silent era, Don Lockwood (Michael Starr) and Lina Lamont (Sara King) because the latter’s voice is so grating that it’s sure to decimate all market appeal. Henceforth, the challenge of dubbing Lamont’s voice comes to the forefront when it’s time to film “The Dueling Cavalier” (which later becomes the movie musical, “The Dancing Cavalier”) when Lockwood, his best friend and songwriter in Cosmo Brown (Brandon Burks), the studio head R.F. Simpson (Peter Van Norden), the director Roscoe Dexter (Jamie Torcellini), and especially Kathy Selden (Kimberly Immanuel), a winsome stage performer, are tasked with covering up Lamont’s glaring weaknesses.
This production, a joint venture between the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment, has gloriously energized the classic romantic comedy, infusing it with a potpourri of positive vibes, good intentions, hysterical moments, and eye-catching dance sequences that are not only effortlessly smooth, but are punctuated with substantively crisp and gratifying sounds, particularly when tap-dancing comes into play. It’s a show that seeks to entertain from start to finish – and succeed it absolutely does in this regard and more.
As the foreman behind the scenes, Liff offers a fresh direction and choreography to the 67-year-old narrative while finely balancing the romantic story arc with indefectible movement, which is exceedingly impressive given the reputed two-week dance rehearsal. He ensures that his performers are all not just on the same page but share an inextricable harmony with one another – and this comes across in how vibrantly and seamlessly the production is paced. Additionally, John Iacovelli’s scenic design captures the stylish 1920s, notably with the lamppost-decorated storefront street corner where Lockwood sings and taps under a cascade of water; Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are gorgeous, none more so than Lina Lamont’s eclectically extravagant wardrobe; Ed Bohks’ hair, wigs, and makeup design is Broadway-caliber; Steven Young’s lighting features appropriately happy, full-colored hues; and Keith Harrison’s musical direction is superb, as he leads his orchestra from one euphonious number to another. Lastly, while David Murakami’s projections convey much vintage-stylized hilarity between Lamont and Lockwood in their black-and-white films together, the picture does get a little fuzzy at times, though this may be due to the uneven backdrops.
Portraying the iconic Don Lockwood is Michael Starr, a remarkable triple-threat in the vein of Gene Kelly. As an actor he is funny, solemn, and sweetly appealing opposite Kimberly Immanuel’s Kathy Selden; as a singer he is pitch-perfect no matter the weather; and as a dancer he is supernaturally graceful while tap-dancing atop furniture and performing stunning balletic sequences, like in the astonishingly surreal “Broadway Melody.”
Brandon Burks more than holds up his end of the bargain as the playful and sometimes sarcastic Cosmo Brown. Burks’ energy is infectious and the audience appreciates it, such as when he shows off his athletic gifts (while never really losing his breath) during the whirling-dervish “Make ‘Em Laugh,” with cartwheels, splits, and overall mischievousness.
Immanuel depicts a darling Kathy Selden, who plays hard to get at first, but comes into the limelight with her pleasing personality and dulcet voice (e.g., “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You?”). Immanuel plays her part so endearingly that her Selden is a welcome addition to Don and Cosmo’s lives, making for an adorable triplet of friends who joyfully salute a “Good Morning” with their optimism and impeccably timed couch-tipping.
The antagonist is, of course, the shrill and eardrum-shattering Lina Lamont, who is egocentrically and hilariously oblivious to her failings. She has it out for Selden, who is only trying to do a good deed for Lamont and her reputation in the public eye. Sara King gives a star-making performance as Lina, which is ironic since she affects a high-octane shriek and sings dreadfully on purpose in “What’s Wrong With Me?” But, Lina is supposed to be so bad that she’s good, and in this case, she’s great thanks to King going the extra mile to be comically exasperating.
Furthermore, Peter Van Norden has an experienced presence about him that lends itself well to being a movie mogul, and Jamie Torcellini earns many laughs as the crop-toting director who becomes frustrated with Lina’s inability to speak into a microphone. Other standout cast members include Kelley Dorney as the gregarious red-carpet host Dora Bailey and as the vocal coach, Miss Dinsmore, who tries ever so hard to get Lina to say “can’t” with a round tone; Candace J. Washington, whose Zelda Zanders can’t bear to tell Lina the truth about her cacophonous voice; Adam Lendermon as the Diction Coach, who impresses as a hoofer in “Moses Supposes;” and Bruce Merkle as the Tenor with golden vocals in “Beautiful Girl.”
The stage musical of “Singin’ in the Rain” can oftentimes be difficult to satisfy because audiences are likely to compare it with the timeless film. However, disillusionment of any kind won’t be an issue here, as La Mirada Theatre’s near-perfect version is boosted by Spencer Liff’s ingenuity and a fleet-footed cast who have pulled off an exceptional show and even made the yellow raincoat uber-fashionable again.
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
For more information about “Singin’ in the Rain,” please visit lamiradatheatre.com