Wednesday, August 24, 2016

NMST Delivers Invigorating 'Singin’ In the Rain' By Mike Hoban

'Singin In the Rain' - Screenplay and Adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Based on the MGM film by special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. Directed and Choreographed by Richard Stafford; Music Direction by Milton Granger; Scenic & Lighting Design by Jack Mehler; Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg; Costume Coordination by Mark Nagle. Presented by The North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, through August 28.

It’s always tricky to bring a musical first created for the movies to the stage, and when it’s an iconic one on the scale of “Singin’ In the Rain” – regarded by many as the top musical of all time – it can be particularly challenging, especially when you consider that not only one, but two of the show’s dance numbers are the signature pieces of two of Hollywood’s most celebrated male hoofers. But powered by an outstanding cast, the North Shore Musical Theatre does not disappoint with this terrific production. 

'Singin' In The Rain' centers around the transition from silent films to the “talkies” by the major movie studios, and is also a sendup of the celebrity worship culture (yes, even then) of that era. Don Lockwood (Mark Evans) and Lena Lamont (a very funny Emily Stockdale) are America's favorite onscreen couple, making ridiculous silent romantic costume pieces for Monumental Studios. The pair are linked romantically in the tabloids as well, but it is all just part of the studio's publicity machine, as Don wants little to do with the beautiful but vapid Lena. 

Following the world premiere of his latest film, Don tries to escape from his adoring fans by ducking into a coffee shop, where he stumbles upon stage actress Kathy Selden, whom he uses as cover to avoid being mobbed by the hysterical crowd. After initial niceties, she tells him she isn't impressed by him or the movies in general because the acting is second rate. Don is insulted, but “true thespian” Cathy gets her comeuppance when she later pops out of a cake at the premiere party and is greeted by a smiling Don. The two spar, and since this is a musical comedy, he falls for her like a ton of bricks. Hilarity ensues. 

With the exception of dance number “Moses Supposes” the musical numbers in the original movie (and the theatrical production) were all taken from previous MGM musical films, and knitted together to fit the story developed by screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green, but what a score! This show is chock full of great song and dance numbers like "Good Morning", “Broadway Rythym” and the title tune, and are executed superbly. But the comedy works equally well, especially the filmed sequences where the dialogue is being dubbed in with mixed (and very funny) results. 

Although the show opened a bit sluggishly on the night I attended, by midway through the first act it was firing on all cylinders. The ballads were especially well done, beginning with Tess Grady (as Kathy) and Evan’s duet “Lucky Star”, and Grady also does a wonderful rendition of the musical question “Would You?” Grady (who last season did a nice job as Stephanie Mangano in NSMT’s “Saturday Night Fever”), really owned the Cathy Selden role, playing it with a committed determination rather than the pure spunk of Debbie Reynolds, all while preserving the All-American girl sweetness. She also absolutely nails the difficult tap numbers. Evans also created a fresh Don Lockwood characterization, while Sean McGibbon (as Cosmo Brown) does a virtual carbon copy of Donald O’Connor, right down to his comic mannerisms. Evans and McGibbon bring down the house with the aforementioned “Moses Supposes” tap number, and both shine in their respective solo interpretations of “Singin’ In The Rain” and “Make ‘Em Laugh”. And as the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard voiced Lena, Stockdale is a gem, with her performance growing stronger as the show went on, including the comical number, "What's Wrong with Me?" (a song that was scratched from the movie version).

The show ends with the full company version of “Singin’ in the Rain” – complete with actual “rain” and it’s a great way to end the evening. This is a great show for both musical lovers and anyone who likes great theater. For more info, go to: