Thanks to a bit of stage magic, Maine State Music Theatre creates precipitation on stage, so its star can literally sing in the rain. That might be all that audience members talk about as they leave Pickard Theater. “Singin’ in the Rain, the final mainstage show of the Brunswick-based company’s 2018 season, is a sparkling production filled with sunny tunes, shiny costumes, brilliant stagecraft and sometimes spectacular dancing.
The American Film Institute rates “Singin’ in the Rain” the No. 1 movie musical of all time and ranks it fifth of the 100 greatest movies, so it is no wonder most people have seen the 1952 classic starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are two stars of the silent screen contending with the advancement of sound technology. Clear to everyone except herself, Lamont’s screechy unrefined voice could cut glass — and studio profits, so Lockwood and his buddy, music director Cosmo Brown, scheme to replace Lamont’s shrill vocals with the dubbed-in silky singing of an actress named Kathy Selden, whom Lockwood has discovered. He’s also in love with her, a fact that causes Lamont to do her own scheming.
Maine State Music Theatre has brought the musical based on the film to live theater, and the production is worth far more than the price of a movie ticket.
In the adaptation to stage, little is changed from the movie save the smart decision to cut an odd and lengthy dance sequence in the second act. The choreography designed by Kelly and Stanley Donen remains intact under the sure-handed direction of Marc Robin.
While no one can fill Gene Kelly’s or Donald O’Connor’s shoes, Nicolas Dromard (Lockwood) and Brian Shepard (Brown) bring equal energy, tap skills and — certainly in comparison to Kelly — superior singing talent to the show. They can’t duplicate the grace and acrobatics that Kelly and O’Connor display on film, but Dromard and Shepard have great stage chemistry and a knack for physical humor. The duo brought the house down in their harmonious song and superb tapping in “Moses Supposes.”
For dance enthusiasts, there are large ensemble numbers such as the “Broadway Melody” set requiring impeccable timing, or the intricate steps in the iconic “Good Morning,” and the intimately creative and athletic feats of skills as Shepard solos in “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
Since the film is set in 1927 and was released in 1952, the show does contain some — alas not totally — outdated sexism and #MeToo moments, with Lockwood and the male film execs betrating and bullying the female actors. There is an entire song called “Beautiful Girl” that reinforces the objectification of women.
The point of mentioning this is that Kate Fahrner, as Kathy Selden, and Kim Sava, playing Lina Lamont, update their roles as much as possible to give their characters the strength to overcome second fiddle status as it relates to their mutual partner, Don Lockwood.
Farhner especially stands on equal footing musically. Sava as Lamont gets the better costuming so her character naturally outshines anyone onstage. Even without the satin and furs, she brings depth and perfect comedic timing to elevate and humanize a “dumb blond” role.
As usual, Charis Leos steals any scene she’s in whether playing Dora Bailey, the gossip reporter, or Miss Dinsmore, Lamont’s unsuccessful diction coach
David Girolmo uses his booming baritone voice to great effect as movie exec R.F. Simpson.
Sava isn’t the only one who shines in the costumes. The aforementioned “Beautiful Girls” number is a veritable fashion show of costume designer Travis Grant’s imagination and love of a perfectly coordinated ensemble.
In a show that has everything from a 17th century ball gown to a frumpy professor look, Grant, with the aid of Gerard James Kelly, the wig designer, creates the perfect look for each character.
Every musical is a production, but this one required many moveable parts to create the perfect whole. How to create actual rain and puddling on stage is only a small part of it. Enhancing the experience are the silent films that Lockwood (Dromard) and Lamont (Sava) star in, projected on screen thanks to projection designer Ryan Swift Joyner. Do not miss the gag reel shown at intermission.
The unsung star of the show is the orchestra. The full crew of musicians captures the big-band sound of the era under the musical direction of Ray Fellman.
Just as advances in technology changed filmmaking, the use of screens, lights, projections and other media have created a more immersive experience. Those sitting in the first three rows who received raincoats will attest to that as “Singin’ in the Rain” is more than a catchy tune; Dromard has so much fun splashing water on the audience, his joy is contagious. It is so easy to fall in love with this show.
One perhaps technological mistake, an open mic on Dromard during the “Broadway Melody” medley captured his heavy breathing as he successfully attempted to keep up with another dancer in a soft shoe competition. Little things like this remind the audience that, unlike a movie, this is live theater, folks. There are no second takes or do-overs; no rests between takes as there are in making a movie. And the cast and crew at Maine State Music Theatre pull it all off as if singing in the rain is a walk in the park.
See the show before it ends Aug. 25. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.msmt.org.
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