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11 March 2005

I really had a hard time writing about the show we saw last night.  We went to the stage production of Singing in the Rain.  And it was a very good show. 

My problem with it was that it's not the movie.  The movie has been described by some as the best movie musical ever filmed and we all know it so well.  (At least I think we all know it well!) The sight of Gene Kelly dancing in the rain is one of the all-time best recognized scenes in movie history.

But given that it's not the movie, it tries to be.  It's pretty much a carbon copy of the movie.   All the lines, all the dances, all the shtick.  It's all familiar, except that it's not done by Kelly et al.

Perhaps I have a misplaced sense of how many people know that movie inside out.  Walt didn't seem to find the carbon copy aspect as glaring as I did.  But I've seen it often enough that I could recognize how much it was like the movie.

There are differences made for things that they can't do on stage.  Don Lockwood's first meeting of Kathy Seldon, for example, was done in the movie by Lockwood being chased by fans and hopping on a trolly car and then jumping into Seldon's car as she drives past.  Well, obviously they can't do that on stage, so the fans chase him through a park where Kathy is sitting on a bench and he quickly takes her in his arms and hides his face so the fans rush by.

But it started to get me especially in the scene which would have been Donald O'Connor's big number--"Make 'Em Laugh."  The scene takes place inside a studio and there is lots of slapstick humor with technicians carrying wooden planks across the stage and his ducking  them successfully or being knocked down with them.  Then comes the dance number, where he sits on a couch with a cloth dummy and the number ends with his running up a prop wall and doing a backflip and then walking into a brick wall, which falls when he hits it.

It's movement for movement out of the movie, even at one point where he gets carried on a plank by technicians walking across the stage.

(There was also a jarring visual in that the guy playing Cosmo Brown looked so much like Paul McCrane, (the nasty Dr. Romano on E.R.) and it was strange to see him in a funny dancing role!)

I guess my feeling was that I wished they had done something to make the production their own rather than just mimicking the movie.  Any attempt to copy the movie is going to pale in comparison because the movie is...well...a classic.

It's like re-doing Casablanca without Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.

It's like Barbra Streisand trying to do A Star Is Born.  :)

So it was difficult to write my review.  I liked the show, but I didn't like the show, if that makes sense.  I had this sense of righteousness like "how dare they try to repeat what has already been done so perfectly?"

I sat here for a long time trying to decide what approach to take.  I read other reviews of other productions of this stage show and they all praised it to the skies.  In truth, if I had never seen the movie, I would have no reservations about it.  So I finally decided to start by saying:

In reviewing The Broadway Series production of "Singing in the Rain," ... it helps to have been living in a cave since 1952, for the production’s strength is also its biggest weakness--it presents itself as a near carbon copy of the classic movie ... So the only way to be fair to this production is to forget how many times I have seen the film and concentrate on this as a brand new production. It is a production that would be difficult not to like.

Once I got that out of the way, it was easy to review, for it was a pretty impressive production.

Singing.jpg (25831 bytes)The most impressive part of it was that it actually rains on stage.   Pipes come down from the flies and begin to flood the stage while the Gene Kelly character sings "Singing in the Rain."  The water drips off the "sidewalk" and into a trough where it collects enough that there is a fairly good sized puddle for him to splash in by the end of the number.

My favorite number from the show was actually the finale, where all the chorus comes out dressed in yellow slickers with red unbrellas and does a reprise of "Singing in the Rain."  This is a number that is not in the movie (though it is reminiscent of the opening shots of the movie, with more people).  I liked this a lot.  This was putting their own stamp on the show, making it their own without lifting something directly from the movie.

Another stamp they put on the show was "colorblind casting."  Lina Lamont, the ditzy movie diva with the shrill "new joisey" accent.  Lina was played by an excellent African American actress, but that casting did require the audience to suspend disbelief.   The possibility of a mixed racial couple ever becoming Hollywood's sweethearts during the silent movie era is slim to none.

Still, with all the minor complaints I had about the show, the complaints are really all based on the fact that it was not the movie.  Once I got past that and just concentrated on this production, it was quite good.  And movie or not, it was decidedly entertaining.

Things you need to know:  Who knew that someone had pubished "The History of the Pink Flamingo"?  I swear--you can find anything on the Internet!

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Photos are all by Chris Bennion...well, except the picture of Sheila, of course!

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