Producing a show in a “found” theater space is always a challenge. There are structural issues (size, obstructed views, a lot of stairs) that producers face. These can be accepted with a lot of humor and ingenuity in staging and audience handling.
For the most part the directed production of Singin’ in the Rain-directed by Debbie Harris for Stage Door Production’s 810 Caroline Street location does this very well.
The show itself is a 1983 stage adaptation of an original movie, written to combine a bunch of American standard songs into an integrated story. It tells of a vaudeville comedy duo (Don and Cosmo), a talented young actor/singer/dancer (Kathy Seldon) and Monumental productions (a clever stand-in for real life MGM studios in its silent movie days). It’s 1927, and Monumental is facing a crisis: a rival studio releases The Jazz Singer, a kitschy Broadway type musical with SOUND!
The result is a backstage comedy where the good guys (Don, Kathy, and Cosmo) have to create, from scratch, a new art form that will save their jobs while not destroying their promising careers.
What’s stopping them? A lot of obstacles: a highly competitive director, backstage drama, a production company boss who can’t seem to understand the modern way of doing things, but most of all, the leading lady – Lina Lamont. Lina’s problem? She believes her own publicity: a phony off-screen engagement to Don and her star status as the heroine of historical dramas.
Fortunately, no audience has ever had to hear Lina’s awful, irritating, nasal, accented voice (Bronx? Brooklyn? Long Island? Chicago? Does it matter? It ain’t classy). Will she foil our heroes’ plans to save the studio and their own careers? She’s sure going to try.
So far the story is familiar to every film buff – especially those of us of a certain age. So does Stage Door Productions performance carry it off? The answer is yes, but not without some caveats.
The first scene did well in introducing us to the main characters, especially Don (played by George Gray who was also Musical Director) and Lina (Paige Alter) as introduced by gossip-monger Dora Bailey (Miriam Liss). It was a scene with built=in confusion that was sometimes made more difficult because lights were up the whole time on all the actors at once, making it difficult to know where to focus. The sight of all of Don’s groupies chasing him off-stage for autographs finally brought the scene to a close.
A flashback in scene two, showing Don and Cosmo as young upstarts singing “Fit as a Fiddle” showed us what the show would look like once it found its feet, and any time these two and Kathy (choreographer Becky Brassfield) hit the stage it seemed to light up on its own. Beautiful casting and a lot of hard work on the parts of all.
The projection of the in-show movie, “The Royal Rascal,” (filmed by the Northern Virginia Motion Picture Co-Op) worked wonderfully and the over-the-top silent acting went well.
Don and Kathy meet cute on Hollywood Boulevard and we finally see what makes Don likeable enough to be a hero in this piece. Kathy is a bit of a mystery, being written as a “serious actress” stereotype with a penchant for running away from Don. It’s not until until she pops out of a cake as a Coconut Grove singer/dancer we don’t see how she fits in. Once Don, Kathy, and Cosmo connect and start to dream together, the show really catches fire. After that, scene builds on scene on scene, seldom stopping.
The singing and dancing ensemble work very well, and after the initial opening night jitters calmed down were troupers marching to the beat. I really enjoyed the character work that went into each performance, they were clearly a chorus who understood that they were also acting a role. I was able to pick out Zelda (Layla Souper) as a trouble-maker from her first appearance-later she’s Lina’s main accomplice.
Paige Alter’s Lina is an example of a wonderfully horrible human being. Consistent in her egotism, maintaining what she obviously sees as “effortless perfection,” she walks over everyone to get her way. Her solo “What’s Wrong with Me,” not in the movie, tell us that to her the world is – her.
Every member of the ensemble has his or her moment; some standouts (in no particular order) are the diction coaches Melissa White and especially Chris West (who gamely ends up being turned into a human prop), William Wilson as studio boss R.F. Simpson, Zack Cassou in various roles – best as director Roscoe Dexter, Kylie Young as a harried sound engineer whose job is to make Lina sound good, and local legend David Featherston as the Policeman and a hilarious Sugar Daddy.
Singin’ in the Rain, (written by Betty Comden and Adolf Green, with music by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Lyrics by Arthur Freed) continues at the 810 Caroline Street location, 3rd floor for the following dates:
Sun. Sep 24th 2023, 3:00 pm
Fri. Sep 29th 2023, 8:00 pm
Sat. Sep 30th 2023, 3:00 pm
Sat. Sep 30th 2023, 8:00 pm
Sun. Oct 1st 2023, 3:00 pm
Dennis Wemm is a retired professor of theatre and communication, having taught and led both departments at Glenville State College for 34 years. In his off time he was president and sometimes Executive Director of the West Virginia Theatre Conference, secretary and president of the Southeastern Theatre Conference, and generally enjoyed a life in theatre.