The Walnut Street Theatre is no skinflint when it comes to musicals. It is obvious that they have poured a lot of money, time and talent into their latest offering, Singin' in the Rain, the stage version of the famous MGM movie musical, which will play through the holiday season. With an often funny book by the original authors of the screenplay, Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs (some of which have become standards) by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed you would think that this show would be foolproof. But adapting a movie from those glorious Hollywood sound stages to the limited space of a working theater is not as easy as it looks. And though the Walnut's version is probably as classy a production as one might hope to get, the show doesn't work in Philadelphia any better than it did on Broadway.
The story takes place in 1920's Hollywood, before the advent of "The Jazz Singer", when the silent movie is king. Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are the reigning prince and princess of the film world. And though the Publicity Department has them romantically involved, nothing could be further from the truth. Don detests the classless Lina, while Lina unfortunately believes all the silly claptrap churned out by the Hollywood gristmill. Having a high opinion of herself she assumes that Don must be in love with hereveryone else is. Into this melange steps newcomer Kathy Selden who considers herself a "real actress". Don falls for the fair, intelligent and soft spoken Kathy. But nasty Lina has Kathy fired from her job at the Coconut Grove and Don loses touch with her. By the end of Act I he finds Kathy and they are a couple in love.
There are plenty of silent movies in Act I, but it doesn't seem as if there is nearly enough music. That's because, unfortunately, most of the songs seem to hang there just as songs, without much setup from the book. This starts to change by the end of Act I. For suddenly we have a story. The first talking picture, "The Jazz Singer" has revolutionized movie going and so R.F. Simpson (who produces Lockwood & Lamont) has decided to make an all talking picture. This is a major problem, however, since his leading lady, Miss Lamont speaks like a truck driver from Canarsie. The studio gives its stars elocution lessons and the song, "Moses Supposes" sung by Don and his sidekick Cosmo works wonderfully, because it comes right out of the dramatic moment.
From here on in through Act II the show works because we finally arrive at dramatic action. In several hysterical scenes, the studio finally gives up trying to change or mike Miss Lamont's voice. They finally elicit the help of Kathy Selden to dub in her voice and sing for the talentless Lamont. Of course the movie is a hit, and of course Miss Lamont wants to take all the credit. But we can't have an unhappy ending in a Hollywood musical.
Despite the draggy first act, the show is not without it's high points. One of them being the music by Brown and Freed, with songs like: "Make 'Em Laugh", "You Are My Lucky Star" "Good Mornin'", "Broadway Melody" and of course, "Singin' in the Rain". Another is the encore at the end of the show when the entire cast emerges in yellow raincoats. It's fun and exciting. They sing a little medley of some of the evening's tunes, and twirl their umbrellas underneath the falling rain to great theatrical effect. I wondered why Twyla Tharp (the original Broadway choreographer) didn't think to integrate all those yellow raincoats into the "Singin' in the Rain" number. But this is the problem with the whole concept of the show. Instead of creating something new, the original authors and director tried to resurrect what had previously worked in the film. To wit; the choreography they used was from the original dance numbersstep for step. The original MGM musical of "Singin' in the Rain" was brilliantas a movie. The stage musical has to be different. It has to create its own kind of magic. There are no close-ups to rely on, nor are there vast acres of sound stage to dance on in wild abandon. You've got one stage, some lights and an orchestra in a pit. You have to come up with something different.
And there are some wonderful things in this particular production. Number one is Beth Beyer as the talentless Lina. She gets every laugh she's supposed to and then some. She sings miserably (which is not easy to do) to great comic effect and looks like a million bucks. The second is the rain. Oh, yes, it really rains and all that water falling delightfully over all that stage is utterly beautiful. I don't know how they do it, nor do I want to knowso please don't tell me. It's theater magic. And the third is Christopher Sutton, who possessed of a winning charm, dances and sings well as Don Lockwood (portrayed by Gene Kelly in the film version.) Director Chuck Abbott has hired a colorful and capable cast who dance and sing with gusto. And as always the sets and costumes are lavish and vivid.
For tickets call: (215)574-3550 or log on to Walnut's website at:
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