‘Singin In the Rain’ at Reagle Is A Classic Hit (5 Stars)

‘Singin In the Rain’ – Screenplay and Adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed; Based on the MGM film by special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. Directed and Choreographed by Kirby Ward; Choreography by Eileen Grace; Presented by The Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, 617 Lexington St., Waltham through 8/17.

Classic movie musicals can be difficult to bring to the stage, especially when the work being mounted is not only regarded by many as the top musical of all time, but also one of the top movies (number five on the American Film Institute’s list of Greatest American Films) – period. And while the Reagle Theatre’s worthy production of South Pacific may have suffered a bit in comparison to the original movie, ‘Singin’ In the Rain’ endures no such fate. It is an absolute home run from start to finish – from casting to choreography to costuming – and is a shining example of just how good regional theater productions can be. Not that the Reagle didn’t import a little help from the Big Apple and national touring companies to bolster the local talent, plucking four of five main characters  from that pool, but one of the best performances came from local performer Gillian Mariner Gordon in the role of Kathy Selden (which Debbie Reynolds portrayed in the film). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

‘Singin’ In The Rain’ is a sendup of the culture of celebrity during the final days of silent film when BIG studios made BIG movies with BIG (and temperamental) stars, and the plot centers loosely around the transition to the talkies by one of those studios. Don Lockwood and Lena Lamont are America’s favorite onscreen couple, making romantic costume pieces for Monumental Studios which seem to consist of a lot of making out with some damsel in distress rescues and swordplay thrown in. The pair are linked romantically in the press as well, but it is just part of the studio’s publicity machine, as Don wants little to do with the vapid Lena.

Following a world premiere, Don tries to escape from his adoring fans by snuggling up next to stage actress Kathy Selden on a park bench to avoid being mobbed by the crowd, but she isn’t impressed by him or his work – which in true Hollywood musical style, fuels true love in Don’s egotistical heart. After a falling out between the two which involves Lena accidentally getting a pie in the face, thus making Kathy her sworn enemy, Don and Kathy fall in love in the touching number, “You Were Meant for Me” as he serenades her on an empty soundstage. When the studio decides to dub in Kathy’s lovely voice for Lena’s screechy (and uproariously annoying) one, hilarity ensues – not to mention a fistful of killer song and dance numbers, which this production delivers almost flawlessly.

It all begins with the casting. Sean Quinn absolutely kills as Don Lockwood, the suave, confident movie star, and he really shines in the difficult dance numbers, including the signature song which he sings and dances with a real exuberance. Quinn also exhibits a great comic flair, especially in his scenes with best pal, Cosmo Brown (Edward Tolve, who also delivers some terrific footwork). Oddly enough, Quinn reminds me more of the movie Cosmo, Donald O’Connor, who, in spite of the “Francis the Talking Mule” movies, was a great comic talent and a brilliant hoofer. Gillian Mariner Gordon is perfectly cast as Kathy (Debbie Reynolds would be proud), and sings and dances wonderfully, particularly in her dance numbers with Quinn. I’ve seen her shine in smaller roles in Reagle productions and wondered how she’d do in a lead role, and she effortlessly steps into the star’s shoes. As the fingernails-on-the-chalkboard voiced Lena, Noreen Hughes is a gem, and her performance grew stronger as the show went on, including the comical number, “What’s Wrong With Me?” (a number that was scratched from the movie).
This show is chock full of great song and dance numbers like “Good Morning”, “Moses Supposes” and the title tune, and Eileen Grace’s terrific (and original) choreography was brilliantly executed, particularly considering that this was regional theater and not all of the performers make their living doing this. The dream sequence, “Broadway Melody” was especially awe-inspiring, and Equity ringer (and former Boston Ballet dancer) Katelyn Prominski was superb in the role of the stunning flapper played by Cyd Charisse in the movie. The costuming in this show was also incredible, with even the smallest character roles given an enormous amount of detail to their period costumes.

This is a great show for both musical lovers and anyone who likes great theater. For more info, go to: www.reaglemusictheatre.com,