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Theater Review – ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Theater Review – ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Produced by The John W. Engeman Theater - Northport

Reviewed by Jeb Ladouceur

Danny Gardner & Ensemble (Michael DeCristofaro photo)

It seems almost every successful stage show has a gimmick. ‘Mary Poppins’ floats under her magic umbrella … ‘A Christmas Carol’ scares the (Charles) Dickens out of us with that 15-foot ‘Ghost of Christmas yet to Come’ … a flesh-eating plant inhabits the‘Little Shop of Horrors’ … and of course ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is famous for its on-stage deluge.

Theatergoers who have come to expect the signature splash-scene from which ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ derives its title, will not be disappointed when at Northport’s plush Engeman playhouse a drenched Danny Gardner steps into Gene Kelly’s soggy shoes and spins around that dripping lamp post. As a friend recently observed when we left the Gateway Playhouse at the conclusion of ‘A Chorus Line,’ “Some things in show business you just never get tired of.” The familiar inundation number made famous by Kelly falls easily into that category.

It was obviously much simpler to choreograph the famed rain scene in the film from which this musical is drawn than it is to present it on stage. Accordingly, the event is a sodden show-stopper. But it should be remembered that there’s much more to this Betty Comdon – Adolph Green book than a few minutes of cute splashing around in a street full of puddles.

Not to be overlooked is the madcap business delivered by a comedic singer/dancer name of Cosmo Brown who is lead actor Don Lockwood’s best friend. Cosmo (unforgettably played in the motion picture by Donald O’Connor and here by the equally talented Brian Shepard) performs an extraordinary version of ‘Make ‘em Laugh’ … a number that is every bit as cleverly original as the title song that Don sings and dances to splendidly. 

Indeed, this show is so replete with memorable ballads that it’s difficult to single out a winner … the score is incredible. ‘Fit as a Fiddle,’ ‘All I Do is Dream of You,’ ‘Make ‘em Laugh,’ ‘You Are My Lucky Star,’ ‘Good Morning,’ … and half a dozen other smash hits keep everyone’s toes tapping. No wonder ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is almost universally considered the best musical ever filmed.

For you first-timers, here’s the story line: Lockwood is a Roaring Twenties silent film star … and he barely tolerates leading lady, Lina Lamont (performed by Engeman’s brilliant Emily Stockdale). Their Producer, a guy named Simpson, (savvy veteran Leer Leary) noting that the first talking movie, ‘The Jazz Singer,’ is a boffo success, decides to convert his new Lockwood/Lamont film, ‘The Dueling Cavalier,’ into a talkie … and a musical talkie at that. But hold it … Lina’s grating voice is worse than fingernails scratching on a blackboard. This’ll never do.

There’s a disastrous screening … a dubbing over Lina’s screechy vocalizing (by Tessa Grady playing the sweet-voiced female protagonist Kathy Selden) … a conversion of ‘The Dueling Cavalier’ into ‘The Dancing Cavalier,’ … all accompanied by a plethora of related complications.

And would you believe it? … the premiere of ‘The Dancing Cavalier’ is a tremendous success! … until … but what happens next, you’ll have to see for yourself between now and July first. Suffice it to say … as my friend presciently perceived … there’s no getting tired of those really great show biz experiences … thank goodness they’re eternal.

This show is wonderfully directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey … and Kurt Alger does a bang-up job of dressing the cast in 1920s attire. The hairdos and ‘flapper’ dresses are certain to remind you of those nifty old pictures of Grandma that so lovingly decorate your hall at home. 

But let’s face it, the star of the show is the downpour … (during which hoofer Danny Gardner somehow manages to maintain his footing) … and the ten ‘stagehands’ who mop up at intermission, leaving The Engeman with what has to be the cleanest floor of any theater on Long Island. One woman a few seats to my right was heard to say, “I wonder if they do windows?”

 Award-winning writer, Jeb Ladouceur is the author of a dozen novels, and his theater and book reviews appear in several major L.I. publications. His recent hit, THE GHOSTWRITERS, explores the bizarre relationship between the late Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Ladouceur’s newest thriller, THE SOUTHWICK INCIDENT, was introduced at the Smithtown Library on May 21st. The book involves a radicalized Yale student and his CIA pursuers. Mr. Ladouceur’s revealing website is www.JebsBooks.com



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