Tapping Into Success

Most of us remember the 1952 movie version of Singin' in the Rain for the inspired partnership of Donald O'Connor and Gene Kelly and the infectiously upbeat songs of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. The plot revolves around Hollywood and the film industry just as America was discovering talking pictures, and the script is satirical, clever and funny in a broadly campy way. In real life, the transition to talkies killed several star careers, as favorites from the silents revealed weak or squeaky vocal cords. In Rain, this is played for laughs. The story concerns a powerful star couple, Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood. The fan magazines have them in love and engaged to be married, but in fact, she's a monster of childish egotism, and he loathes her. And then there's her voice, both speaking and singing, which is irresistibly reminiscent of fingernails scraping across a blackboard. One evening, on the run from his fans, Lockwood encounters a young would-be actress, Kathy Selden, and -- naturally -- falls for her.

The slim romantic plot line is enhanced by singing, dancing and all kinds of jokes and shenanigans. There are hilarious scenes in which first Lamont and then guy pals Lockwood and Cosmo Brown receive vocal training -- the latter degenerating into a spluttering lunacy of giddy tap dancing and such nonsensical phrases as "Moses supposes his toesies are roses." There are funny silent-movie segments in which we see Lamont and Lockwood wearing powdered wigs and mincing their way through a costume drama. And it represents a truly astonishing transformation when, aided by that technological marvel the phonograph record, Kathy's sweet voice seems to be issuing from Lamont's witchy mouth.

But the heart of the musical lies in the relationships among Don, Cosmo and Kathy, and much depends on the charm of the actors playing the roles. Fortunately, in the Boulder Dinner Theatre's Singin' in the Rain, Shelly Cox-Robie, Scott Beyette (Brown) and Brian Norber (Lockwood) are very charming. Cox-Robie is a lovely Kathy. She has a pretty, lyrical singing voice and can also deploy a chest-deep belt when it's required. Beyette's voice is pleasant and his tap dancing strong. His energy, athleticism and willingness to go all out on "Make 'em Laugh" unleashed a roar of audience approval on the night I attended. It's more difficult to characterize Norber's performance. He has a tendency to mug and overplay, grin too widely and work far too hard to ingratiate himself with the audience. He doesn't need to do these things, because he has a lot of talent and a loose-limbed way of dancing that's very appealing. The staging of the title song is both a triumph and a disappointment. It's a triumph because director Ross Haley has found a way to introduce huge quantities of water into the building, creating a kind of monster playbox in which Norber disports himself. It's a disappointment because the actor's focus is more on flirting and playing with us -- the audience -- than on Kathy, the girl who's left him in such a joyous state of abandon. Still, the combination of Norber's long, elastic limbs and the sprays of water he sends flying in our direction (the theater provides slickers for people in the front row) make up for any deficiencies. It's a wild and wonderful sequence. Oddly, Norber is most compelling when he's doing the least. There's something genuinely warm and moving in his love scenes with Cox-Robie.

As Lina Lamont, Bren. Eyestone Burron is every bit as fish-eyed, funny and repellent as she should be. The choreography is adapted from the movie by Alicia King Dunfee, and though the dancing can't match that of Kelly, O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds and Cyd Charisse, there's a lot of joy and energy on stage, and it's infectious. The scenery is spare, cockeyed and functional, as befits the backstage motif. Though I'm usually a fan of Laurie LaMere Klapperich's costume design, I found some of the women's dresses downright unflattering.

There are a couple of problems with direction -- including too much distracting moving of furniture during some of the big numbers, such as "Make 'em Laugh" and "You Are My Lucky Star"; an annoyingly cold mist-maker blowing throughout Norber's tender rendition of "You Were Meant for Me"; and too-frequent interruptions of "Singin' in the Rain" by bemused passersby.

Still, if you're Scrooged and Nutcrackered out, Singin' in the Rain can provide all the good-humored merriment you'll need this holiday season.

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Juliet Wittman is an investigative reporter and critic with a passion for theater, literature, social justice and food. She has reviewed theater for Westword for over a decade; for many years, she also reviewed memoirs for the Washington Post. She has won several journalism awards and published essays and short stories in literary magazines. Her novel, Stocker's Kitchen, can be obtained at select local bookstores and on Amazon.
Contact: Juliet Wittman