BOWIE – Appropriately one of the rainiest Septembers in memory, 2nd Star Productions is presenting “Singin’ in the Rain” at Bowie Playhouse. The production has been running from late September, with choreography by Andrew Gordon.
This musical is based on the wildly popular 1952 cinematic classic of the same name, a circumstance which is both favorable and unfavorable for any production of this work.
On the one hand, the film and its iconic music are known and loved, ensuring an audience sympathetic to the material.
On the other hand, most audience members have viewed the memorable scenes of this movie, repeatedly, danced to perfection by several of the greatest American dancers in film history: Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.
Yet, director Allison Erskine writes in her program notes that “our focus from day one has not been to recreate the movie, but to make each moment our own, while giving the nod to the original film.”
Indeed, the production may be most successful in the scenes, songs and moments when it departs from the movie on which it is modeled.
The most creative decision involves mixing movie projections with the play on the Bowie stage.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is a love story set amid the crisis in a 1920s movie studio as sound technology is introduced to motion pictures. In the 1952 film, we see clips from recreated silent films which show the problems in microphone placement, synchronization with records, and stodgy dialogue which worked well on silent-film intertitles but not in spoken conversation. The 2nd Star Productions has filmed these scenes with its actors humorously in black and white (sometimes with intertitles) in an outdoor setting, so that we are in a theatre watching short movies with the cast on the side playing 1920s spectators watching short movies. Members of the cast are facing us, so we see their reactions.
Other creative changes include the introduction of a new song: “What’s Wrong with Me.” The problem was to show the character, silent movie star Lina Lamont, experiencing a difficult transition from silent films to “talkies” because of her shrill singing voice. In this reviewer’s opinion, the song shows Lina in a more vulnerable, and arguably more appealing, manner than in the 1952 film.
This new song has suggestive lyrics not fettered by the 1950s Hays Code limitations of the film; thus, the Bowie Playhouse production and indeed other stage renditions of “Singin’ in the Rain” provide a more modern feel to the show.
Above all, 2nd Star’s Katrina Sillaman is a superb Lina, channeling the screen image of the character from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) “Singin’ in the Rain” film version with her shrill voice and unpolished diction to a “T.”
Another excellent moment is the surprise of “You Stepped Out of a Dream,” a Hollywood classic song not from “Singin’ in the Rain” at all but from MGM’s film “Ziegfeld Girl” a decade earlier.
Jeffrey Hawkins as Don Lockwood sings this and other songs in the production with ease and style. As for what might have been, there is a full version of “You Are My Lucky Star,” deleted from the 1952 film, in which Kathy Selden admits that she was “starstruck” for movie-star Don.
This scene has since surfaced and is an extra on some DVD’s of the film, but we can see it here in its proper sequence “uncut,” so to speak. Emma Godfrey is one of the standout performers of the cast as Kathy, acting, singing and dancing well in equal measures.
The production works hard, and for the most part succeeds, in overcoming the modest-sized stage of the Bowie Playhouse, which is much smaller than the vast MGM Hollywood studio stage where “Singin’ in the Rain” performed in dance and filmed. Scenes with a trio of dancers (Andrew Gordon, Deb Kidwell and Tyler White) in supporting roles are excellent, as are most of the dance numbers; one of the best is “Moses Supposes,” tap-danced by Jeffrey Hawkins (as Don) and Robbie Dinsmore (as Cosmo Brown). Realizing that the moment when Gene Kelly is “singing and dancing in the rain” is as unforgettable as it is irreproducible, 2nd Star Productions wisely does a more stylized version, keeping the rhythm and foot patter of the original without trying to imitate each and every movement. And yes, there is an indoor-rain stage effect with actual water!
The spotlight use is also very creative and colorful in the scene introducing “You Were Meant for Me.” Audience members who know the film extraordinarily well will enjoy some clever twists from the original, for instance: Three yellow raincoats in the opening to the film are seen with ordinary umbrellas, but on stage bright yellow umbrellas abound at the end of the play.
Perhaps the most uneven part of the production is the live orchestra. While it does exemplary work in some scenes, especially while accompanying “Moses Supposes,” in a few cases the timing between the rhythm and brass sections diverges slightly. Overall, however, this production of “Singin’ in the Rain” is very good. Those with a great love of the movie, as well as those with less familiarity with it, are likely to enjoy this production (which runs through Oct. 20) thoroughly.