I’ve always thought of the stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain” as a “why?” musical. When the original 1952 Gene Kelly/Debbie Reynolds/Donald O’Connor film (often called the greatest movie musical) is so perfect, why would you try to improve that onstage?
Director/choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell only partially answers that question with his charming, entertaining production at Bloomington Civic Theater.
The backstage Hollywood story, about the transition from silent movies to talkies, has one of the funniest, smartest screenplays ever, by masters Betty Comden and Adolph Green. It’s one of the first “jukebox” musicals, with songs that Nacio Herb Brown wrote for other films.
Ferrell’s direction too often apes the original film, and he is unable to recreate that movie magic. But he is in a difficult spot: Many probably come expecting that kind of recreation. Those folks will be more than satisfied here.
But when he displays his own creativity, like turning “Make ‘Em Laugh,” a solo song for Donald O’Connor, into a slapstick production number, he makes his own kind of magic.
As matinee idol Don Lockwood, C. Ryan Shipley almost erases the memory of Gene Kelly. He finds his own dancing style, suave rather than Kelly’s athleticism. And his sweet tenor voice melts hearts.
Jeffery C. Nelson has brilliant comic timing as second banana, Cosmo, as well as a strong set of pipes. He is given the opening verse of the “Broadway Melody” ballet, which Ferrell totally reconceives and makes into the highlight of the evening.
As Lina Lamont, the diva star, Rachel Weber steals the show. That’s practically written in the screenplay, but she makes the most of every swoop and shriek.
Newcomer Holly Richgels holds her own in this more experienced company, utterly appealing as the ingénue.
Erica Zaffarano makes her BCT debut, creating a functional set that works well but misses a degree of the nostalgia that is called for. Ed Gleeman’s costumes evoke the period of the 1920s, as well as the world of the film.
The dancing chorus easily handles Ferrell’s stylish, imaginative choreography (often better than the leads). In the end, he makes a pretty strong case for the stage version.
William Randall Beard writes about music and theater.