It was a pleasant mild Sunday afternoon outside, but inside, at the Nancy Bock Performing Arts Center, it would soon be raining in the most delightful way. Only the producer, Keith Brumfield, and his daring Class Act Productions would attempt such a thing, and along with the skillful direction of Larry Smiglewsky they pulled it all off splendidly in several Thanksgiving weekend performances. The show was “Singin’ in the Rain,” based, of course, on the legendary MGM film of the same name, and featuring the witty script of Betty Comden & Adolph Green, with the delightful songs of Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed. When this stage version debuted at Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre in 1985, it ran for less than a year. I can only guess that that production was not as much fun as this one.
Music Director/Conductor, Rae Moses, got things off to a jazzy start as the orchestra performed the thrilling Overture and captured the Hollywood mood of the story. Film buffs will recall the opening scene of a gala Hollywood film premiere at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Chirping gossip columnist, Dora Bailey (amusing Kimberly Truncale in this edition), greets the arriving guests on the red carpet in this elegantly staged opening (set design, Kent Hale & Jonathan Shelledy) with sharp formal wear for the stars (costume designs, Janine Moss & Caroline Zirilli). Dora introduces the film’s stars, Lina Lamont (Elizabeth Tinder), Don Lockwood (Michael McClure), and we also meet Don’s pal, Cosmo (Mark Jackson). Reflecting on his career, Don has a flashback to his youth and we see young Don (Peter McPoland) and young Cosmo (Mia More) do some fancy footwork as hoofers.
Then, in an explosion of dazzling talent, we zoom forward in time and see McClure & Jackson (suddenly transformed from black tie formals to bright red suits) in the knockout Vaudeville number, “Fit as a Fiddle.” Danced in front of a glittering tinsel curtain, it hinted of the glorious singing and tap dancing that lay ahead. (Choreographer, Tony Smith).
The plot centers on the end of the silent film era, as “talkies” become all the rage and threaten the future of silent stars like Lockwood & Lamont. (Movie scene producers, Bari Brumfield & Len Bates, beautifully executed the black and white screenings of the co-star’s premiering swashbuckler films included in the show). Meanwhile, the head of Monumental Pictures, R.F. Simpson (a blustering George Downham) and his somewhat effete director, Roscoe Dexter (Marco Camacho), have discovered that the future of films will have to include sound.
But there is one problem. Lina’s whiny and annoying voice will never do. (Miss Tinder has whiny and annoying down to hilarious perfection). Things start to improve when Don meets pretty would-be starlet, Kathy Selden (Colleen Trotter), under a starry sky in the park. The handsome Mr. McClure has an easy and natural charm on stage, and his smooth, romantic rendition of “You Stepped Out of a Dream” had wonderful support from the ensemble in this beautifully staged number with more chic costumes and some classy lighting from designer, Michael Weiss. Then it is Kathy’s turn as Miss Trotter leads several chorus girls (wearing cute, pink flamingo feather outfits) in the adorable, “All I Do is Dream of You.”
Mr. Jackson followed with a high-energy performance of the classic, “Make ’em Laugh” number that was only marred by the failure of his body microphone as he bravely carried on. (Class Act may want to check with the John Cooper School about how to have flawless audio on stage.) Then it was on to breezy choreography for a lovely parade of gorgeous gals in the terrific “Beautiful Girls” number, smoothly sung by talented and good-looking tenor, Chris Martin. Let’s get him a bigger part next time. The musical treats continue as attractive Miss Trotter sparkles like the starry sky behind her, and charms us as Kathy sings a lovely and lilting, “You Are My Lucky Star,” that truly does shine. Don responds with a coyly delicious, “You Were Meant For Me,” that was a perfect delight from Mr. McClure, who looked a bit like Dick Powell had popped out of a classy 1920’s magazine ad for Van Heusen. Clearly, this senior at Sam Houston State University was the perfect choice for this role, and one would hope he finds a career on the stage to share his many gifts with audiences to come.
For reliable comic relief we had two Hollywood vocal coaches to train our stars in speaking properly for talking pictures. Katelyn Mattingly hilariously plays the exasperated Miss Dinsmore who tries, without success, to train Lina in proper diction. Meanwhile Chris Martin is uproariously funny as the vocal coach for the guys. Their encounter results in another tap dance showstopper from Don and Cosmo during the witty song, “Moses.” Next, for absolute merriment, Kathy, Don and Cosmo join forces to sing the cheerful, “Good Morning,” as these talented actors continue to amaze with wonderful tap dancing and superb vocal harmony. In that number Mr. Jackson’s microphone worked perfectly, and it was easy to hear what a fine singing voice this Sam Houston University junior has to match his beaming presence on the stage. His goal to get on a New York stage after graduation does not seem unreasonable. Act One ended with Mr. McClure brilliantly performing the classic title song while singing and dancing — you guessed it—in the rain!
And what a rainstorm it was, beautifully staged, carefully lit, and technically stunning (technical director, Mr. Shelledy). I hope Gene Kelly was smiling down from up above as the multi-talented McClure re-created the joy of this memorable scene. My eyes started to moisten a bit as I watched in utter amazement and thought of the endless joys that Keith Brumfield and his organization have brought to this community through the years, while tapping (in more ways than one) into the tremendous talents of young people from miles around.
Act Two highlights included the delicate sweetness of Trotter’s “Would You?” and the hilarious and screeching tantrum from Lina when she learns from her equally whiny friend, Zelda (Nina Garcia), that Selden has been selected to do voice-over for Lamont’s film performances. With a sort of Carol Burnett flair for comedy, talented Miss Tinder bravely takes on the show’s one forgettable tune, “What’s Wrong With Me?” (Not included in the original film, as best I can recall.) But that was followed by another blockbuster with Jackson and McClure leading the ensemble and a huge cast of “Hollywood Kids,” in a dazzling “Broadway Melody / Broadway Rhythm” number that was a whirling explosion of colorful costumes and toe-tapping choreography.
In a “Note From the Founder” on the first page of the printed program, Brumfield had expressed the hope that the audience would “…leave with a glorious feeling…” By the time a stage full of young people of all ages performed the rollicking grand finale reprise of “Singin’ in the Rain,” while dancing in their matching yellow rain slickers, there was no mistaking that the mission had been accomplished.
CLASS ACT PRODUCTIONS will next offer Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella on February 25, 26 & 27, 2011. For details visit www.classactproductions.org