Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Singin' in the Rain
Also see Rob's review of Pumpgirl
The plot of the musical, as in the 1952 film, centers around two boyhood vaudevillian dancing friends: Don Lockwood, now a famous silent film star, charming, charismatic and talented, set to successfully make the changeover to talking movies; and Cosmo Brown, Lockwood's lifelong friend, sidekick, dancer, musician and comedian. Both are forced to contend with Lina Lamont, Lockwood's leading lady who, believing everything she reads in the gossip magazines, is convinced she and Lockwood are an "item." She is oblivious to her horrendously excruciating nasal whine, which will forever end her movie career in this new age. Enter youthful ingenue Kathy Seldon, whose sweet dulcet tones are dubbed over Lamont's cacophonous efforts, saving the day.
Albuquerque Little Theatre's stage presentation of Singin' in the Rain is very much hit and miss. The slew of opening night technical issues (probably rectified at the time of this writing) depicted life imitating art, especially when Cosmo's (Jordon Embree) microphone decided to emulate the difficulties experienced by Lina Lamont (Lisette Mowery). Additionally, the music, under Shelly Andes' direction, had more than occasional erratic sound levels which were distracting, often drowning out the singers.
There are risks involved in attempting to replicate an iconic film on stage; inevitably the audience will compare it to the timeless original. Fortuitously, the film has passed the latter half its seventh decade, so it is also reasonable to assume at least half the audience has not seen or even heard of Gene Kelly.
Plus or minus a few songs, the stage musical remains fairly faithful to the original movie, but at 2 1/2 hours (including intermission), the large cast must make a valiant effort to keep energy levels up. A few gratuitous additions make things seem longer. The repetitious echoing from the trio of boys gets old very quickly, and the sexual innuendo scenes involving R.F Simpson (Kenneth Ansloan), in a suit, and Production Tenor (James Creighton) strutting around in black, kneehigh leather riding boots referencing "casting meetings," while possibly being an inside joke, do nothing to enhance the overall performance.
Janine O'Neill Loffelmacher's Kathy Selden is unexpectedly mature in comparison to the teenage Debbie Reynolds of the film, yet it is she who, with her steady stage presence, sometimes single-handedly holds this production together. Loffelmacher is a well-known, well regarded actress in New Mexicothat she can sing so well will only elevate it even higher. As for Lisette Mowery's characterization of Lina Lamont (a role she played a few years ago) as an irritating egotistical self-centered shrewI can only hope she is acting. Her voice is so consistently dreadful, even as she slaughters her one number "What's Wrong with Me?," it's a toss-up whether to laugh or cry. When a moment of her song's choreography included the swift removal of a "wedgie," the audience roared its appreciation.
Embree (Cosmo), in his first appearance at ALT, does a very commendable job with the comedy, especially the visually comedic aspect of his character. His "Make 'em Laugh" routine is a lovely, energetic, athletic and funny tribute to O'Connor. His timing is excellent, his voice, when kept within its natural range, is fine, and he seems comfortable onstage. The directorial decision by Henry Avery to cast as Lockwood David Bello, musically challenged outside a limited scope and an obviously novice dancer, is surprising. Gene Kelly's shoes are difficult to fill, and Bello, a good-looking man with a strong speaking voice, makes a brave, if doomed attempt. To give credit where it's due, Bello does try to keep up with his castmates, and they in turn seem to restrict their abilities for the sake of uniformity. However, with little if any chemistry between his Lockwood and Loffelmacher's Selden, and a lack of acting cohesion among the four leadsfarcically for some, naturally for othersit is somewhat difficult to relax and enjoy the show. This imbalance is common in community theatre; its very nature lends itself to such conditions. Perhaps things will even out in time.
The large ensemble cast are cheerful and versatile, appearing as an assortment of often-amusing characters, such as cleaning ladies in headscarves and housecoats, cigarettes dangling from the sides of their mouths. Their dance numbers (choreography is by Luke Loffelmacher) are enjoyable to watch, all seeming to enjoy themselves throughout the performance. A couple of standouts are Shirley Roach and Lindsey Meek, whose talent and enthusiasm are delightful to see.
The set is complex and manifold, an achievement for Thane Kenny and his team. The scene changes go relatively smoothly considering the number involved. This issue will also no doubt smooth itself out.
The film sequences are hilarious. They are a parody of themselvescheeky and clever, drawing genuine belly laughs from the audience. When I realized the ladies-in-waiting were men in drag, it explained a lot. The easy flow and segue into these top-notch clips makes up for the sometimes awkward set changes and stage mishaps. The rain scene is beautifully projected onto the backdrop, and though the lamppost is decidedly wobbly and unused, the decision to place the equivalent of a leaky hose above the footpath for the iconic title song and dance routine possibly contributed to the accidental fall (and recovery) by Bello in a nervous and seemingly under-rehearsed performance.
All the glitz and glamor of Hollywood are well represented under the careful hand of Joe Moncada. Lamont's over the top costumes and wigs are spot on, as are Dora Baily's (Angela Robinson) more conservative, almost regal, outfits. A full cast in bright yellow slickers provide a colorful close to the evening.
Probably no stage adaptation can fully recreate the ebullience and joy contained in the original movie (there's a reason The New York Times called it "the happiest movie musical ever made"), and though this production doesn't deliver the goods, its nostalgic attraction and lighthearted content will sell tickets to a theatre community which supports its own.
Singin' in the Rain, through June 16, 2019, at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Curtain times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM, and Sundays at 2:00 PM. There will be an ASL Interpreted Saturday matinee on June 1 at 2:00 PM and a Thursday performance on June 6 at 7:30 PM.Tickets are $25 for general public, $23 for Seniors (65+), $21 for Students (13 University) and $17 Children (12 and under) and are available by calling 505-242-4750 or visiting AlbuquerqueLittleTheatre.org.