The songs, the steps, even the line deliveries may bring a nostalgic sigh. But sweet familiarity — even when infused with energy and professional polish — isn’t enough to make Goodspeed’s stage reproduction of the classic MGM movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain” more than theatrical karaoke.
Innovation is not the order of the day in a production so dependent on the original screenplay that there isn’t even a stage adaptation credit. Little is changed to upset the cinematic memory and, judging by the opening night audience, that’s just fine. These stage stand-ins will do for an undemanding market if they sufficiently evoke the beloved film and the production satisfactorily presents its famous musical numbers — as was.
Goodspeed delivers on its money shot, showering the stage for the act one closer of the title song with lead David Elder gloriously drenched. The savvy Broadway hoofer dances like a dream, but one that stars Gene Kelly. Choreographer Rick Conant curates the Kelly-Stanley Donen moves well for the limited space, and Elder performs all the tasks ably, including exceptional tap and the extended second-act set-piece “Broadway Melody” — that fulfills the need for a big number but otherwise makes little sense in the film or onstage. (No complaints here. Just saying.)
But to make the show more than a historical reenactment of the silly and sublime film, individual personalities must break out and stake a claim of their own. Kelly and cohorts Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor are sui generis. But that’s not to say other fresh and individual talents can’t do a timeshare in the roles. After all, the heart of the film is the carefree spirit of talents bursting at the dawn of a new entertainment era — the arrival of the sound to movies in late ’20s Hollywood — not a group of pros preserving a retro status quo.
That lighter-than-air freshness of the film is lost under helmer Ray Roderick, who pushes perfs way too hard, especially for Goodspeed’s intimate space. Elder’s grin is unvarying throughout, and the romantic lead seems to go through the motions with professional dispatch. Sarah Jane Everman plays Kathy Selden (Reynolds’ role) with requisite pluck but misses the character’s vulnerability. As the comic sidekick, too-eager-to-please Scott Barnhardt strains mightily at the wordplay and wackiness but makes it seems like too much work for too little payoff. In “Make ‘Em Laugh,” he doesn’t.
Production values are spotty. James Noone creates a glistening art deco, blue-tiled, versatile set that cleverly creates a movie lot’s worth of locations. But the show-setting stage curtain is chintzy. Angelica Wendt’s costumes are inconsistent. (The wig for movie star Lina Lamont, played by suitably ditzy Stacey Logan, is especially tired for a glam girl.) But sound, music and special effects are all swell. Film clips, shot around the 19th century theater, are nicely done and provide the same sure-fire yuks as they do in the film. (Goodspeed exec Michael Price has an amusing cameo as an off-kilter sound-equipment inventor.)
Preservationists may note the production adds the show opener, “Going Hollywood,” from the 1933 film starring Bing Crosby. The Arthur Freed-Nacio Herb Brown trunk song is an apt-but-undistinguished scene-setter to get the aud in the musical mood.