Reviewed by Will Stackman
North Shore Music Theatre continues its recovery with an audience favorite, the stage version of the MGM classic "Singin' in the Rain," the height of the Gene Kelly/Stanley Donen collaboration. In spite of Betty Comden & Adolph Green's efficient adaptation, and the technical wizardy of NSMT's designers and staff, the stage show can't really compare to the movie and for all the skilled casts' efforts, doesn't quite come up to Kirby Ward's IRNE winning production for Reagle Players a few seasons ago. But it's an enjoyable farrago, full of standards from Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed, a real crowd pleaser. It would be interesting find out how director Richard Stafford improves the show if it's brought back soon. Reagle's production was so successful they encored it the very next season, and then Kirby Ward and his wife Beverly came back the following season to do their other signature piece, "Crazy for You."
Stafford's arena production captures some of the signature dance moments from the original with first-rate work by Matt Loehr in the Gene Kelly role of Don Lockwood, silent film star and Mark Ledbetter as his buddy, Cosmo Brown, the Donald O'Connor role. Kelly D. Felthous is a charmer as Kathy, the Debbie Reynolds role. The trio rise to the occasion and topple the couch in "Good Morning." Loehr sloshes his way through "Singin' in the Rain" with glee, and Ledbetter tries to "Make 'em Laugh," which lacks the zaniness of the original. But how do you run up the walls on an arena stage? They should have tried. In the dream ballet, "Gotta Dance," Sae La Chin shines the Girl in the Green Dress, Cyd Charisse's role, the centerpiece of this improbable number. And even though she doesn't have a number, local diva and award-winner Leigh Barrett opens the show with thrilling tones as Dora Bailey, Hollywood radio personality. Barrett also doubles later on as Lina Lamont's diction coach in a lower voice. In the role of that vocally challenged silent film star, Beth Beyer is a rather one note--or perhaps screech. She needs to generate more sympathy for this overwritten comic role. A bit more desperation would help. She carries off "What's Wrong with Me?"--the show's eleven o'clock number--but we don't like her any better afterwards.
North Shore hasn't stinted for this production with a large ensemble, an array of costumes from Kansas City coordinated by Randall Klein, a flexible set by Howard C. Jones, and impressive lighting by Martin E. Vreeland. Music director Richard Hip-Flores conducts a strong pit with electronic keyboard backup. The various film sequences, including artistic director Jon Kimball's introduction in period style, filmed at Endicott College in Beverly were convincing. Within the limitations of the form--a musical about show-biz, cliches intended-- "Singin' in the Rain" is an enjoyable entertainment, tuneful and appealing, which takes too long to get started. The staging of the first number, "Fit as a Fiddle" is the weakest in the show, and would benefit from fewer extras, reimagining, and perhaps some multimedia. The relationship between Don and Kathy needs a stronger and funnier start. Cosmo just needs to be looser and funnier, starting with his clothes. Loehr and Ledbetter have the dancing chops however, and Felthous is not slouch. And the "rain" at the end of each act clinches the deal, just like in the movie. Certain mature members of the audience found it hard not to sing along. A bouncing ball wouldn't be out of place for the finale/curtain call
North Shore will be rounding out their season at the end of August into Sept. by bringing back their Rogers & Hammerstein "Cinderella," which had to close due to the fire right after its original opening last summer. It will be interesting to see what improvements result from their equipment upgrades, and whether or not the director has rethought any of the complex staging. And of course the students from NSMT's Youth Performance Academy can't wait to be back on the big stage. Some graduates from the program are in "Singin' in the Rain," of course. The nonprofit organization just staged their annual highschool musical theatre awards ceremony with considerable fanfare.