Singin' in the Rain is a real liquid asset for Boulder's Dinner Theatre
Singin' in the Rain follows a glamorous Hollywood couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, through the transition from silent movies to the talkies. Don comes through pretty well, but Lina's voice is a harsh, squeaking disaster that threatens to sink the studio. Enter Kathy Selden, who wants to be a serious stage actress. Don falls for her — much to Lina's chagrin — and persuades her to lend her warm, smooth speaking and singing tones to the cause. Dubbing, newly invented, saves the film. And throughout, there are comic bits, toe-tapping tunes, a couple of sweetly tuneful love songs and amazing dance numbers, many of them familiar from the 1952 movie starring Donald O'Connor, Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. (Singin' didn't become a stage musical until the early '80s.) Boulder's Dinner Theatre has even put together some deft, funny bits of film showing Don and Lina silently emoting while poncing around in Restoration costumes and towering wigs; there's also a hilarious scene in which Lina first tries to use a microphone, her voice rising and falling as she turns her head hither and yon, the mike picking up her heartbeat and the clunking of her necklace.
BDT manages to work its customary magic — particularly as the focus of the plot moves to Scott Beyette and Alicia Dunfee, both strong and appealing actors, who play Don and Kathy, and also to the rantings of Cindy Lawrence's delicious Lina. But the company has to surmount a few obstacles to do so. Local dinner theaters always walk a thin line when it comes to performance style: We expect a professional bonhomie, a larger-than-life quality from these actors, but it's also far too easy for them to go overboard, mugging and hamming so shamelessly that their antics become a distraction. Some of the folks in this show simply can't cross the stage without utilizing a jerky fake walk, or speak without trying to squeeze a laugh from every syllable and intonation. The speech tutor hired for Lina, for example, outright sings the words she wants Lina to mimic. Most problematic is the way Bob Hoppe approaches the key role of Lockwood's pal, Cosmo. Much of the charm of the piece stems from that relationship, a genuine old-time friendship in an artificial world, and in the way the two men form an affectionate, protective buffer for Kathy. All of this is reflected in the scene in which the three stay up all night engaged in creative discussion, realize day has arrived, and greet it with the exuberant "Good Mornin'" song. But Hoppe never really interacts with the other two; he's always on his own, grinning and gesturing for the audience. Reined in a bit, he might be terrific.
Still, there's so much to recommend this production: a fine orchestra, some terrific performances, highly skilled tech, the company's usual exuberance and the choreography of Dunfee and Beyette, who have closely followed the movie scenes that had Cosmo fighting a rag-doll dummy behind a sofa and Don — unforgettably — splashing through the rain. The rain scene stole the show seven years ago, when BDT last staged Singin', and it works the same magic this time. Don has just walked Kathy home after the two of them have realized their love for each other. Thunder sounds, the audience members nearest the stage hastily put on company-provided slickers, and water falls from the ceiling, lightly at first. As Beyette starts to tap dance, the flow increases — now there are jets, cascades and waterfalls, falling on the actor, soaking his suit, puddling on the stage. Beyette kicks. A huge spray of water arcs out over the audience. He stomps. Another spray. It's impossible to convey the sense of freedom, shock and exhilaration created by Beyette's wildly energetic dancing, the flying water, the unexpected wetness on your face or arm.
Get the Arts & Culture Newsletter
Find out about upcoming performances, exhibitions, openings and special events happening in the Denver art and theater scene.