by Regina Ford
When taking a nostalgic look back at the Golden Age of Hollywood musicals, few entertainers take the spotlight like Gene Kelly in his starring motion picture role in Singin’ in the Rain. Kelly’s iconic dance routine in the pouring rain featuring a lamppost as his stationary partner is tattooed in the memory of those who were blown away with the scene on the silver screen.
It must have been challenging to duplicate that magic for stage some 40 years later when the 1952 Metro-Golden-Mayer film was adapted as a stage musical with story by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown.
Director Todd Poelstra met the challenge head-on at Pima’s Proscenium Theatre (located on the west campus) and deserves immense credit for taking this complex musical and bringing it to life with choreographer Mickey Nugent and music director Martha Reed.
Set in Hollywood in the disappearing days of the silent screen era, the musical focuses on romantic lead Don Lockwood (Tristan Acevedo), his sidekick Cosmo Brown (Alden Lester), aspiring actress Kathy Selden (Kyndall Viapiano), and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont (Veronica Conran). At Monumental Studios, the money-hungry boss, R. F. Simpson (Adrian Ford) decides that his next silent movie, The Dueling Cavalier should be transformed into a talkie entitled The Dancing Cavalier featuring his studio’s two biggest names, Lockwood and Lamont. As it happens, Lamont’s painfully shrill vocal tones make her an unlikely pick for stardom in talking pictures. Behind the scenes, they recruit the talented newcomer Kathy Selden to do Lamont’s voice overs until things go astray.
From the opening scene, the costumes (designed by Kathy Hurst, assisted by McKay Keith and Mary Adkisson) are stunning as the favorite movie stars from yesteryear arrive at Grauman’s Chinese Theater for the premiere of The Royal Rascal, starring Lockwood and Lamont. The number of costume changes alone for a large cast of 22 is impressive. Plenty of feathers and sequins can be tricky and messy but no visible costume malfunctions could be seen.
Poelstra not only directed the show, but also designed the set, where “less was more” and just enough to create 14 different scene changes in the first act alone. Moving scenery made ample use of the various playing spaces in the theater. Cast members moved set pieces on and off stage with relative ease. The pinnacle of set design in Act I is no doubt the famous “Singin’ in the Rain” number, danced by Acevedo in an actual rainstorm. The illusion of rainfall engineered by Polestra, assisted by Nate Saiffer along with the direction of technical director Anthony Richards, was an effective and show-stopping addition to the production. Luann Read’s lighting design provided the feel of a stormy night that no one who isn’t crazy in love would wish to venture out in. What is wonderfully remarkable is Acevedo’s stunning dance performance as he is pelted with rain. Minimal props complemented with vintage furniture (much of it built with the help of master carpenter Brandon Saxon) was very clever. The office of R.F. Simpson deserves special mention for its subtle opulence, as well as the movable scenery complete with balcony in The Dancing Cavalier.
Video designer Kyle O’Dell worked magic with the addition of edited projections of the show’s silent black and with movie clips complete with subtitles.
Thanks to Nugent, the choreography captured the attention of the audience with remarkable dance numbers featuring the entire cast. The ensemble numbers were electric, and “Broadway Melody” was particularly vibrant. “Good Morning,” featuring Cosmo, Don, and Kathy was downright joyful to see.
Acevedo and Viapiano had the daunting task of stepping into the iconic roles of Don Lockwood (originally played by Gene Kelly) and Kathy Seldon (originally played by Debbie Reynolds), but these two actors did an incredible job. Their vocals, especially during the ballads, were lovely. Well-known tunes such as “You Were Meant for Me” and “Would You” were beautifully delivered by the duo.
Acevedo embraced his role as the matinee idol as did his sidekick Lester and the pair stole the show with “Make ‘em Laugh.” These two actors worked so well together and captured the vaudeville era with gusto. Both are triple threats. Likewise, Conran put her own twist on her character, and did a nice job finding the humor, pathos, and wiliness of this actress who stands to lose so much with the advent of the talkies. Her song “What’s Wrong with Me” was an audience favorite. Another strong performer was Adrian Ford as the larger-than-life R.F. Simpson. Ford’s powerful stage presence made him ideal for his role. Other notable performers are Gianberi Debora Deebom as Miss Dinsmore, the male diction teacher, and Stefan Baker-Horton as the production singer.
Singin’ in the Rain doesn’t disappoint, but this college production had a few unfortunate glitches that were apparent, even though the student cast continued without hesitation. Audience members who care about the future of live theatre should forgive the minor sound issues with microphones and a near-miss scene change with a descending Grauman’s Chinese Theater that could have resulted in a lead character taking a fall. Credit goes to the actors who kept on going and didn’t miss a beat. Poelstra used a diversified cast and replaced many roles traditionally filled by male actors with women who played not only Hollywood dancers but movie studio stage hands and film crew as well.
Pima Theatre’s production of Singin’ in the Rain deserves an audience. The amount of work that goes into a musical of this magnitude is hard to imagine unless you see it for yourself. The students deserve your applause. It is playing at Pima Community College Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, West Campus, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm through March 1. Tickets can be purchased online at www.pima.edu/cfa or by calling 520-206-6986