- Cosmo and Don play it for laughs on the tune "Fit as a Fiddle."
Some films become such fixtures in our culture that they keep popping up in the most unexpected places. Who'd have thought that the same cheerful, upbeat song could appear in both a General Electric TV commercial with a dancing elephant and in a horrific rape scene in A Clockwork Orange?
Yet those are two places (among many others) where the title song from Singin' in the Rain has been employed for its iconic or ironic power. The movie musical itself is considered by many to be the most perfect of its type ever made, and the Carousel Dinner Theatre is mounting its own version, complete with an onstage rainstorm. While it may not touch all the comic buttons, this production is remarkably evocative of the mood that has made the original such a treasure.
Among the strengths of this piece is the fact that its plot is intertwined with a real event of enormous proportions in the entertainment world: the moment when Hollywood made the switch from silent films to "talkies." As a result, the sometimes silly goings-on have some historical heft and inside-showbiz smarts that aren't present in many musical fluffapaloozas.
In this 1927 scenario, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the silent-movie versions of Brad and Angelina, two supposedly lovey-dovey stars who are at their peak and cranking out popular costume dramas. But in the middle of filming their latest creation, The Dueling Cavalier, another studio rolls out the first talking film, The Jazz Singer. Trying to play catch-up, Don and Lina's studio boss, R.F. Simpson, wants to turn up the volume on his dynamic duo and turn the swashbuckling adventure into a talking and singing musical, The Dancing Cavalier.
Trouble is, Lina has a voice that sounds like Roseanne Barr extruded through Richard Simmons. Barbara Helms is a stitch as this intellectually challenged, platinum-haired bimbo, putting just the right ditzy spin on lines such as "It makes us feel as though our hard work ain't been in vain fer nuttin'." To the rescue comes Don's old pal, Cosmo, with the suggestion that contract ingenue Kathy Seldon dub all of Lina's lines and songs. Of course, complications ensue.
It's almost impossible to set aside memories of the famous film version, since this stage adaptation mirrors virtually every scene. As a result, Curt Dale Clark comes in a distant second to the athletic and entirely captivating performance of Gene Kelly as Don. Tall and sturdily built, Clark is a credible matinee idol, but he doesn't have the lithe grace of a dancer. Still, he smoothly handles the soft-shoe and tap numbers. And whether or not he's affecting a change to his singing voice, his stiff baritone fits his character neatly.
In the showy role of Cosmo, Richard Strimer is a continual breath of fresh air, his nearly constant clowning always eliciting a smile. Of course, the ultimate test for anyone playing this role is the management of the slapstick dancing and singing number "Make 'Em Laugh." In the movie, Donald O'Connor practically exhausts the viewer with a barrage of terpsichorean feats, including running up a wall and sticking a backflip. Without the aid of multiple takes, Strimer throws himself into this demanding routine with abandon (he doesn't try the wall bit, probably wisely).
The Debbie Reynolds role of Kathy is handled by Amanda Rose with professional aplomb, and she brings a polished singing voice to the solos "You Are My Lucky Star" and "Would You." But she doesn't quite have the sparkle and irrepressible sass that would make the self-involved Don fall as hard as he does, so we never quite believe their love match.
In smaller roles, Dale Benson as studio honcho Simpson cadges some laughs with his quivery Kate Hepburn delivery, and Andrew Kindig makes for an amusing diction coach in the "Moses Supposes (His Toeses Were Roses)" number.
Director and choreographer Marc Robin keeps the pace brisk and employs a couple of silent-film segments to humorously illustrate some of the early problems with the studios' primitive sound technology and creative microphone placement ("Talk into the bush!"). The one scene that doesn't quite fit is the "Broadway Melody" set piece, and this staging doesn't help much, since it's played largely in front of a black curtain and some half-hearted Broadway marquee drops.
But all is redeemed in the act one presentation of the title song, in which the Carousel stage is drenched in a downpour as Don swings his umbrella and kicks geysers of water into the audience. (Fortunately, the first few rows are given clear plastic ponchos.) Even without Gene Kelly's goofy grin and the hanging-off-the-lamppost moment, this song, like the entire show, captures the spirit of a cinema classic.