Sunday, August 16, 2015

Singin’ In the Rain A Real Coup For Mask & Mirror

Blake Isaac (Don) and Amelia Morgan-Rothschild (Kathy)
Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin

By Tina Arth

When Mask & Mirror Community Theatre announced that the first “Tualatin Community Musical” would be Singin’ In the Rain I was not alone in wondering what kind of absurd hubris led this tiny group of theater lovers, whose previous shows had been in a church rec room, to believe they could pull off a show this complex – and with a live orchestra! Audience expectations could run very high, as it is arguably Comden and Green’s best screenplay, and the musical that defined Gene Kelly’s song-and-dance persona for millions of fans. Friday night’s opening proved all naysayers wrong – the show is delightful! Credit is due first to Director Sandy Libonati, who managed to assemble the acting and production talent necessary for an enterprise of this scope. The secret is at least in part that it is truly a “community musical” – the program reveals a broad range of support from the Tigard/Tualatin communities, other theater groups, the school district, and individuals and businesses from all around the metro area.

Singin’ In the Rain revolves around a glamorous silent film couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, whose careers are in jeopardy with the advent of talking pictures. As a former song and dance man, Don is well equipped to make the switch to talkies, but Lina can neither act nor sing, and her harshly nasal New York accent is a disaster on tape. Despite the public perception that they are an “item,” Don cannot stand Lina in real life. Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown convinces the studio to hire a stand-in to dub Lina’s lines for her - Don’s real girlfriend, chorus girl Kathy Selden. This does not go over well with Lina, who is ultimately disgraced when the deception is revealed. Lina rushes off in embarrassment, Don and Kathy kiss, and things work out just the way they should – a very 1950’s Hollywood ending!

Taylor Libonati (Cosmo) - on the board.
Al Stewart Photography, Tualatin
The four leads really make the evening worthwhile. Jessica Jaeger (Lina Lamont) does a wonderful job of sublimating her beautiful voice in service of Lina’s dissonant delivery, and her solo “What’s Wrong With Me” is the funniest song in the show. Taylor Libonati (Cosmo Brown) has a solid voice, and his dancing simply sparkles. He’s exciting to watch with his mid-air splits, tapping on an elevated two by four, and leaping on and rolling over his cast mates’ bodies. For me, his finest moment is when he pulls off Donald O’Connor’s famous backwards somersault off the wall – it more than compensates for an otherwise inexplicable scene change! Blake Isaac (Don Lockwood) is also a fine dancer, and his solid baritone is perfect to sell amazing songs like “You Were Meant for Me,” and, of course, “Singin’ In the Rain.” His mixture of sincerity and nonchalance precisely captures Lockwood’s character. However, the real shining star is Amelia Morgan-Rothschild (Kathy Selden) – a part often relegated to sweet, pretty girls with nice voices (think Debbie Reynolds in the movie), but rarely to actresses as incredibly cute, smart, and serious as Morgan-Rothschild. She holds her own in the dance numbers, but it is her beautiful soprano (with just a touch of controlled vibrato) that makes numbers like “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You” real showstoppers.

The supporting cast is huge and versatile – with rapid changes of costume, several characters play three or four parts. Ensemble vocals are generally tight, but some of the larger dance numbers could use a bit more precision.  Triple kudos to costume designer Viola Pruitt and her assistants for pulling together more than 200 lavish and period-appropriate costumes! An orchestra pit would be nice – the music is occasionally a bit overpowering (especially the trombones) and it was my bad luck to be seated right in back of conductor Sam Talluto, who efficiently if inadvertently blocked my view of several key moments. The show runs long, and would have benefited from some condensation of the scene changes (especially because of the cute and lively pre-show and intermission student dance performances). However, clever staging and some nice video work keep the evening moving along pretty well.

With a lot of vision and little help from their friends, Mask & Mirror is offering a genuinely entertaining evening of musical theatre. The show only runs one more weekend, so get your tickets early!

Singin’ In the Rain is playing at the Tualatin High School auditorium through Sunday, August 23d with performances at 7 pm Friday and Saturday, 2 pm on Sunday.

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