Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Twilight’s Latest Shockingly Funny

Jay Hash, Annie Trevisan, and Will Futterman


By Tina Arth

I first saw Twilight’s current production, No Sex Please, We’re British, at the Strand Theatre in London back in 1975, about four years after its 1971 debut. I pretty much hated it, and have nursed a flickering flame of contempt for the show ever since. My dismay when I learned that Twilight Theater Company was doing the show was eclipsed only by my surprise at last Friday’s opening when I found myself happily laughing (along with the rest of the audience) at this utterly ridiculous farce.

Playwrights Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot’s absurd tale takes a cheery look at the hypocrisy of late 1960s – early 1970s sexual strictures – in particular, with respect to pornography (which was broadly defined, widely illegal, and definitely deemed unacceptable by middle class Brits still recovering from the Victorian era). Newlyweds Peter and Frances Hunter have just moved into their new flat, located in Windsor above the bank where Peter is assistant manager. Frances has ordered what she thinks is glassware from the Scandinavian Import Company, hoping to sell it from the flat to earn an extra pound or two. When the boxes arrive, she finds that they have actually sent an assortment of pornographic pictures. With Peter’s widowed mother Eleanor on the way for her first visit, the couple is desperate to get rid of the offending photos a.s.a.p., and they embark (with the reluctant assistance of Peter’s co-worker, Brian Runnicles) on a series of ill-fated schemes – flushing them down the toilet, grinding them up in the garbage disposal, sinking them in the Thames – none successful. Frances compounds the problem by erroneously mailing a bank customer’s check to the Scandinavian Import Company, which Peter is of course frantic to retrieve. Eleanor arrives, followed by the smitten bank manager, Leslie Bromhead, a visiting bank inspector, a local police superintendent, and more porn (this time, videos). With the classic farce surplus of doors (front door, kitchen, den, bathroom, bedroom, spare room, and upstairs) the cast manage to miss each other at all of the key moments, even after the solicitous Scandinavian firm sends over two enthusiastic hookers to ensure that the customer is well and truly satisfied. In true farce fashion, things work out OK, but with a bit of a twist.

I spent some quality time figuring out why I so thoroughly enjoyed a show that I had previously scorned, and came up with three fundamental reasons: venue, run of show, and cast. “Venue” is obvious - I like my theater up close and personal, I want to see the actors act, and there’s not much comparison between the 1000+ seats in the Strand and the intimacy of Twilight’s tiny theater.  “Run of show” is reflected in the tradeoff between the letter perfect, but often lifeless, offerings of performers in year 4 of a 10-year run (spare me a farce in the hands of bored actors!) and the goofy, if occasionally bumbling, enthusiasm of local theater heroes at the beginning of a three-week run. Finally, there’s cast – not that Twilight draws better actors than London’s professional stages (and certainly the Brits had flawless accents) – but the right people on a small stage for a limited run generates such enthusiasm that the audience just cannot resist joining in the fun.

While the cast is solid, and everybody gets a share of the laughs, it is Jay Hash as Brian Runnicles who absolutely steals the show.  He has great comic timing, shifts facial expressions seamlessly from worried to downright frantic, and tumbles about the stage with the dexterity of a disorderly baboon as he desperately tries to hide from his boss and the police. Lesley Mansfield and Maddy Gourlay, as the two hookers, give Hash some serious competition – and kudos to the costumer who found just the right mechanical tassels for Mansfield’s bra!

Veteran actors Gina George and Philip Giesy (as Eleanor and Leslie) provide a nice contrast to the frantic shenanigans of the younger set – always calm, just slightly staid, but with a light in their eyes and enough double entendre to let the audience know where to look for the real hanky-panky.  Christopher Massey’s pajama-clad, heavily-drugged Mr. Needham is impressively upright, then impressively loose-limbed as his sleeping pills kick in, and Jeff Giberson’s slightly mush-mouthed Irish cop provides a nice combination of rigidity and idiocy. To the extent that there are straight men in the show, they are Will Futterman and Annie Trevisan (as hapless newlyweds Peter and Frances), but both actors get plenty of chances to dance on the edge of hysteria, and their few attempts at romance are great – reminiscent of comparably ill-starred moments in Barefoot in the Park.

As befits farce, there is an enormous amount of running about, and director Sarah Nolte Fuller has done a fine job of creating the illusion of chaos while maintaining absolute control over waves of physical comedy – I imagine that during rehearsal she must have felt very much like a traffic cop at rush hour. The result – a really silly, really funny show that inspires laughter, hoots, guffaws, even the occasional cheer from an appreciative audience.

Twilight Theater Company’s No Sex Please, We’re British is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through June 30, with performances at 8 P.M. on Thursday-Friday–Saturday, and 3:00 PM on Sunday. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Broadway Rose’s Momentous Into the Woods




By Tina Arth

As an unabashed fan of Stephen Sondheim, Broadway Rose, and Into the Woods it was no surprise to me that I absolutely loved the company’s opening night show last Friday. I expected no less, and was confident that the necessity of using the company’s relatively intimate New Stage would not diminish my enjoyment of a show often presented on larger stages, with more elaborate sets and a full orchestra. What I did not expect was that the show would actually be enhanced by the limited space and the consequent staging limitations.  Music director/pianist Eric Nordin partners with director/choreographer Jessica Wallenfels to present a one-piano arrangement of the score combined with pacing and choreography that leave Sondheim’s music and lyrics intact but allow James Lapine’s brilliant book to shine more brightly than I thought possible.

The trick? Obviously, casting is one key, and Wallenfels’ cast is superb. The stage is packed with vocalists fully capable of bringing the songs to life, but who also deliver both the broad physical comedy and serious moments that define Into the Woods’ innovative mixture of mirth and message.  I noticed in the program that Wallenfels shares choreography credit with the cast, and I love that she acknowledges that the final product is the result of a true collaboration. What else do I love? More than anything, the decision to frame the show as updated commedia dell’arte – a traveling troupe would not have elaborate sets or an orchestra, but they would have exaggerated emotional expression, elaborate costumes, and a Jack/Jill of all trades attitude, with the actors tackling not only multiple acting roles but also helping out wherever needed. At Broadway Rose, this flexibility is shown in the cast’s role as auxiliary musicians, incorporating percussion accents into the story, tossing in a kazoo solo, and (most brilliantly, in my opinion) seamlessly taking over the keyboard while Nordin takes his bow.

The show follows the story of the Baker and his wife, childless because of a multi-generational curse from the hideously ugly witch next door.  Their quest for a child brings them in contact with characters from Little Red Riding Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, and Rapunzel (with a brief nod to Sleeping Beauty and Snow White). The first act follows (loosely) the three fairy tales through their happy resolutions, while the Baker and his wife get their child and the witch is restored to her former beauty, all wishes are fulfilled, and the act closes with the oh-so-happy “Ever After.” Act II explores the darker themes behind the stories (e.g., stealing is still stealing, even if it’s from a giant; killing is still killing, even it it’s a wolf), ultimately cautioning us to be careful about the things we wish for and say in the finale, “Children Will Listen.”

As there was nothing, in my opinion, not to love, I’ll skip the usual praise for the cast and instead offer up a few of my favorite “moments in the woods.” Moment #1: Erin Tamblyn’s Witch – when she sang “Stay With Me” I not only got chills, but I found myself wondering how humans had ever evolved to be able to make such magnificent music with their voices. Moments #2 & 3: Austin Comfort and Adam Elliott Davis (the two princes) going WAY over the top in both “Agony” and its reprise – and simply nailing the vocal and physical aspects with breathtaking energy. Moment #4: Hannah Sapitan as Little Red Riding Hood – how do I pick? When pressed, I’ll take her fearless delivery of “I Know Things Now.” But then there’s the fabulous moment when Comfort and Leah Yorkston (the Baker’s Wife) roll across the stage as they disentangle, Tyler Andrew Jones’ (Jack’s) poignant parting moment with Milky White, Eric Michael Little (The Baker) as he accepts his wife as a partner in “It Takes Two,” and Milky White’s explosive resurrection. My advice? Go see the show yourself (if you can get tickets – there aren’t many left!) and choose your own moments.  I may have to go back and choose a few more for myself.

Into the Woods is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, June 30th 28th.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Odd Couple Bringing Down the House in Forest Grove

ennis Reilly, Ken Centers, Jeff Wineland, Chuck Weed, Stevo Clay


By Tina Arth


If you are afraid that Neil Simon’s brilliant The Odd Couple is a little dated – like you’ve heard all of the jokes before, and there may not be a lot of surprises left in the script - then you’ve really got to head out to Theatre in the Grove’s current production to refresh your memory about why this is such a well-loved (and oft-produced) show. Co-directors Jeananne Kelsey and Pruella Centers and a really solid cast bring a freshness and energy that keep the audience fully engaged – even the scene change music is snappy!

Although many may never have seen the play, most adults are somewhat familiar with either the movie (starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) or the long-running sitcom (starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall) about two very mismatched roommates, the impossibly slovenly Oscar Madison and the neat freak Felix Ungar, whose OCD has driven away his wife and now threatens to cost him his best friend. The weekly poker game in Oscar’s utterly filthy Manhattan apartment gets underway, but the regulars (Speed, Murray the cop, Roy, and Vinnie, plus Oscar) are all worried that Felix hasn’t shown up. A phone call lets them know that Felix’s wife Frances has thrown him out, and that he may be suicidal. Felix finally arrives, and Oscar rashly offers to let his good friend move in – there’s plenty of space in the 8-room apartment since Oscar’s ex-wife has moved out of town with the kids. Two weeks into the arrangement, Felix’s annoying cleanliness and hypochondria has driven Oscar to a near-homicidal rage, with a final outburst when Felix messes up a double date with the alluring and oh-so-available Pigeon sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn.

Theatre in the Grove’s production is distinguished by an abundance of exceptionally broad physical comedy. There are a few times when it almost feels as though the front rows should have been designated as a splash zone, with food and drink flying across the stage – and the actors throw themselves into their roles with the same vigor. Stevo Clay is a gleefully uninhibited Oscar, yet he never quite goes over the top and he reels in the comedy in key moments to reveal the loyal, big-hearted, and lonely man beneath the devil-may-care exterior. Zachary Centers’ Felix is the polar opposite – button down, neurotic, wearing his full-volume allergies like a badge of honor – yet still able to generate sympathy from the audience as well as the Pigeon sisters.

Complementing the strength of the two leads, the rest of the cast takes advantage of ample opportunities to sparkle. The Pigeon sisters (Lura Longmire as Gwendolyn, Mary Reischmann as Cecily) are utterly fabulous, as they titter, coo, and cry with their impeccable British accents through the ill-fated double date. The poker players (Jeff Wineland, Ken Centers, Chuck Weed, and Dennis Reilly) each manage to create a distinctive and memorable character – I was especially taken by the loving care with which Reilly and Centers shared and analyzed one of Felix’s carefully crafted sandwiches.

As is the norm at Theatre in the Grove, Zach Centers’ elaborately detailed set design provides the perfect backdrop. Costumes are equally appropriate, with special props for the bright mid-sixties mod clothing and the equally period coiffures of the Pigeon sisters.

The Odd Couple is classic comedy, but despite the sometimes-broad comedy, when played well it is definitely not farce. Theatre in the Grove has found just the right mix, and the result is a touching, believable, but very funny presentation of one of Neil Simon’s greatest works.

The Odd Couple is playing at Theatre in the Grove, 2028 Pacific Avenue, Forest Grove through June 16, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

HART’S FUNNY FORUM A BUMPY RIDE

Donald Cleland and Stan Yeend

By Tina Arth



A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the classic comedy that earned Best Musical/Best Author honors at the 1962 Tony Awards, is an ambitious undertaking to close HART’s season. Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics provide a perfect complement to the utterly silly book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, perhaps better known for writing TV sitcoms (Gelbart created the TV version of M*A*S*H), and the pacing of the jokes is reminiscent of the one-liner sitcom style.  

HART’s Forum succeeds on many levels, and provides an abundance of laughs for the audience, even though the overall production is uneven – when it is good, it is very, very good, but there are a few features that are somewhat jarring. The show is Director Aaron Morrow’s first foray into directing a musical, and he showed excellent judgment by adding two veterans, musical director Alice Dalrymple and choreographer Linda Anderson, to his team. The vocal ensemble work and most of the solo performances are strong, and many of the dance routines are surprisingly engaging (especially considering that there are only a couple of real dancers in the cast). 

Forum is the 100% farcical tale of the freedom-seeking Pseudolus, a Roman slave in the household of Senex, his wife Domina, and their naïve son Hero. Senex and Domina have temporarily left the head slave, Hysterium, in charge of the household (including guarding Hero’s virtue). Hero has fallen for the Philia, a lovely but dim Cretan virgin living next door in the house of the flesh-merchant Marcus Lycus. Pseudolus promises to procure Philia for his young master in exchange for his freedom - but soon learns that Philia’s contract has been sold to Miles Gloriosus, a mighty Roman captain. Pseudolus tells Marcus Lycus that Philia has brought a deadly plague from Crete, and convinces Marcus to release the girl to his custody in order to protect the rest of the household.  Before Hero and Philia can escape, word comes that Miles Gloriosus is coming to claim his bride. Pseudolus plans to give Philia a sleeping potion, then convince Miles Gloriosus that she has died of the plague – but Philia disappears, and a frantic Hysterium is dragged into service as a stand-in corpse, complete with wig, make-up, and virginal gown. Through a series of farcically implausible coincidences, everything works out just fine, fulfilling the show’s initial promise of comedy tonight.

So – what works? Definitely Stan Yeend as Pseudolus – from his first moment on stage in “Comedy Tonight” he produces just the right mix of cheerful egocentrism, cunning, and wheedling, and his vocals are as flawless as his comic timing. Tanner Morton does a fine job as Hysterium, and he works the character’s many moods, from bootlicking head slave to quivering faux corpse, with several interesting stops along the way. The pairing of real-life couple Aubrey Slaughter and Trevor Winder as Philia and Hero is inspired – Slaughter is, as she so blithely (and beautifully) sings, astonishingly lovely, and Winder pulls off his character’s boyish enthusiasm without a hitch.

The part of the befuddled Erroneous might have been written for Donald Cleland, although he plays his first tour around the Seven Hills of Rome so broadly that there is little room for him to grow more exhausted on subsequent trips. Two of the six courtesans are truly outstanding – Kate Barrett’s feline Vibrata and the agile, undulating Amelia Michaels as Tintinabula – both completely command the stage during their solo spots.  The casting of Diana LoVerso as Marcus Lycus clearly demonstrates that, when gender is really irrelevant, it can be ignored – her singing and dancing add immeasurably to the ensemble work, and she is every bit the slimy and lecherous merchant required for the role. Finally, the geometrical precision and attention to detail in William Crawford’s set is a superb touch that really sets the stage.

What doesn’t work? Primarily, two unfortunate casting decisions. The show’s authors worked hard to cram their show full of gags, and there really was no reason to try to shoehorn in more running jokes by making the muscular courtesan Gymnasia a large, slightly grimy and absurdly wigged and painted man. Similarly, casting a very small man as the mighty Miles Gloriosus just doesn’t work. Both John Knowles and Linh Nguyen are solid performers, and both they and the audience deserve better.  In addition, the hard-working Proteans seem a little chaotic – perhaps a little less running, leaping and jumping would give them and the audience a rest. The costuming is very uneven – some of the Roman robes, gowns, and military attire hit just the right note, but a few characters look like they have been garbed for an elementary school play – and no matter what lurks on Morton’s upper body, he needs to lose the blue t-shirt under his virginal gown!

On balance, the good far outweighs the awkward, and I had no trouble joining the opening night audience in their enthusiastic laughter and applause. Bumpy ride or not, HART’s Forum is a terribly funny show and deserves appreciative audiences to fill the house.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum  is playing at the HART Theatre, 185 SE Washington, Hillsboro through Sunday, June 16th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

“In the Buff” -Twilight’s Body Awareness Strips Away Hypocrisy

Allie Rivenbark, Zero Feeney, Tamara Sorelli, David Remple


By Tina Arth


When going to see a play that’s new to me, I make it a firm rule not to Google the show in advance – I want to approach the material with as few preconceptions as possible. However, I love programs, and try to arrive at the theater early enough to scan the program before the show starts. Part of this is my absurd obsession with finding the inevitable typo (admittedly hypocritical, since my reviews often house blunders). However, my real goal is to learn as much as possible about the specific production I am about to see – cast list and bios, director’s notes, etc. can be a goldmine of information about how this particular performance was developed. A good sign for me is a “something old, something new” mix. I want “old” in the production team, a stable and strong group that speak to the company’s ability to retain and commit experienced techs, costumers, stage managers, and other essential support personnel. I look for the “new” in the direction and casting – not from a love of novelty, but from the conviction that the best companies eagerly seek out (and are able to attract) these front-line folks from the widest possible community.  Twilight Theater‘s Body Awareness hits a homer on both counts – the director and three of four cast members are new to the company, and the production team is rife with a team of utterly reliable regular suspects.

Annie Baker’s 2008 Body Awareness is a beautifully written comedy satirizing  (among other things) the hypocrisy of a culture of over-the-top feminist political correctness at Shirley State College, a fictional small-town Vermont school. Phyllis is a professor, and her partner Joyce teaches at a local high school. They share their home with Joyce’s son Jared, a quirky young man who exhibits several symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome but refuses to see a therapist for treatment. The entire play takes place during “Body Awareness Week,” an event originally designed to highlight eating disorders but expanded by Phyllis to encompass an absurdly broad range of cultural offerings, including a photo exhibit by houseguest Frank Bonitatibus, an aging hippie who specializes in portraits of nude girls and women.  Phyllis is appalled by Frank’s photographs, although she’s never actually seen them, and becomes very jealous when Joyce decides to pose for Frank. Jared refuses to try college because he is an OED-obsessed autodidact, and somehow believes that he can become a professional lexicographer with no formal higher education – and he gets himself fired from his job at McDonald’s to free up more time for his studies (and to learn how to attract a girlfriend). A series of smaller explosions lead up to a final crisis, and by the final scene each character has learned and grown a little - there is no neat “happily ever after” moment in sight.

David Remple is simply remarkable as Jared, and manages to deliver what is in many ways a comic role without cheapening the performance to play for laughs. It takes him very little time to win over the audience as he fights the Asperger’s label; his sensitive performance helps us to move from sympathy to empathy for his plight. In his brief time as a male role model for Jared (and potential suitor for Joyce), Zero Feeney brings a cheery, Zen-like calm to his portrayal of Frank. Despite occasionally creepy moments we like him, and forgive him his frequent cluelessness because his delivery is so completely innocent.

The author has reserved her broadest satire for the role of Phyllis, the supercilious super-feminist psychology professor.  Allie Rivenbark never misses a beat in the role, and unquestionably earns the most laughter, but the price is that she is more of a parody, less a fully realized character than her cast-mates. Finally, there’s Tamara Sorelli, whose poignantly believable portrayal of Joyce anchors the show and connects the other characters. Sorelli captures the bind in which Joyce, like countless other women throughout history, finds herself  – the loving peacemaker, trying to ease the tensions around her with apologies, patience, humor, and a solid core of emotional intelligence. Joyce is caught up by the almost impossible challenge of trying to be all things to all people, and Sorelli makes us feel the love, pain, heartache, and ultimate strength of her character’s steady march toward self-realization.

The set is cleverly designed, with smoothly moving parts to facilitate set changes, but the play’s numerous brief scenes are still sometimes choppy. A few little things might help, like finding a way to leave the dining room table in place or using large calendar pages instead of writing on the blackboard, and perhaps costume changes could be streamlined. In any case, the show is not overly long (just two hours, with intermission) and certainly never drags. Ilana Watson’s sound design is a huge asset – whenever the stage is dark, the music shines brightly.

Despite Greg Shilling’s self-effacing director’s notes, he clearly did a great deal more than tell his actors where to stand and why – the pacing is steady, key moments are never over or underplayed, and the comedy is not allowed to overshadow deeper themes– all marks of skillful direction and close attention to detail. Even a small Mother’s Day crowd filled the theater with laughter, and this is definitely not a show to miss.

Twilight Theater Company’s Body Awareness is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through May 19, with performances at 8 P.M. on Thursday-Friday–Saturday, and 3:00 PM on Sunday.

Friday, May 10, 2019

The Butler Did It – Wait! What Butler?


Sean Riley, Devin VanDomelin, Erin Bickler, Brandon Weaver, Brain Young, Steve Koeppen. Photo by Katherine Roundy


By Tina Arth



While I have high hopes for every show I see, I try to keep my expectations realistic, given the many constraints faced by community theatre groups. Thus it’s always a treat when I am surprised by the flat-out excellence of an overall production or its individual elements. One look at Mask & Mirror’s set for Tim Kelly’s The Butler Did It suggested that I was in for something special – and I was not disappointed. Director Meghan Daaboul has assembled a crack production crew and fine actors, and the result is a farcical whodunit that successfully parodies myriad conventions of the mystery genre, managing to be utterly silly without being utterly stupid.

The story is, of course, absurd. A group of famous mystery authors have arrived at Ravenswood Manor, an isolated estate on Turkey Island off the coast of San Francisco. They have been invited by Miss Maple (based on Agatha Christie’s “Miss Marple”) for a weekend of play mysteries, and each author is playing the role of one of his or her iconic detectives. Miss Maple shares her home with the newly hired personal assistant Rita and Haversham the maid – ironically, there is no butler. All but one author arrives in the middle of a massive storm that cuts the island off from the mainland, lending an appropriate aura of menace to the visit. The authors are faced with a real mystery when one of them, Rick Carlyle (based on Dashiell Hammett’s Nick Charles) is found dead in the living room of the elegant estate. With the body safely stashed in the basement until the police can be called, Miss Maple offers an immense reward anyone who can identify the murderer, and the authors reveal themselves to be remarkably inept when trying to solve an actual crime. In particular, Louis Fan (based on Charlie Chan) displays a mind-numbing level of incompetence as he spins a series of implausible theories. False identities, hidden doors, an adventurous arrival by helicopter, and falling figurines all drive the story to its bizarre conclusion.

All ten of the core cast members do a fine job of selling the individual quirks of their characters. A few standouts include Donna Haub, who is especially fun as Miss Maple – completely self-absorbed, and so focused on her mystery weekend that she is utterly out of touch with the real events going on under her roof. Erin Bickler’s broad comedic style is perfect for the adventurous, flamboyant, and seductive Charity Haze, and she milks the role for all it is worth. Sean Riley’s “Louie Fan” at first seems like a wildly offensive Asian stereotype, until it becomes clear that he is playing a clueless white guy pretending to be “Oriental” without even a trace of cultural awareness.  I particularly enjoyed Brian Young’s hard-boiled take on Chandler Marlowe – he did a flawless job of maintaining his accent and attitude throughout. A final shout out must go to Jennifer Waverly as Haversham the maid.  Waverly is a master of the Dumb Dora school of wide-eyed naïveté, her timing is superb, and despite her criminal past we truly believe that she’s a straight shooter, but definitely not a murderer.

Detailed costume, lighting, and sound design all provide solid support for the production, but the real centerpiece hit me right between the eyesas soon as the lights came up . William Crawford’s amazing set, dressed to the nines by Cindy Zimmerman, is simply gorgeous – as lush and detailed as anything I’ve seen on a local stage in years.  If I’m ever rich enough to buy an estate on an island, I’m bringing in this team to do my décor (and Rita the maid to keep it clean). It’s clear that Meghan Daaboul took every element os her show seriously – nothing falls between the cracks, which is what allows the comedy to shine through.

Mask & Mirror’s The Butler Did It runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm and Sundays at 2:30 pm through May 19th at “The Stage” at Calvin Church, 10445 SW Canterbury Lane, Tigard, 97224.


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Singin’ In the Rain Takes Lake Oswego by Storm

John David Scott and Dennis Corwin


By Tina Arth


Lakewood Center for the Arts’ current production of Singin’ In the Rain is musical theater at its best; the payoff is that director Ron Daum and his A++ cast and production team are singing and dancing their way into the hearts of consistently sold out audiences.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green‘s 1952 film established the gold standard for an era of classic movie musicals, and the show’s 1985 transition from celluloid to stage seamlessly perpetuated the timelessly comic tale.

The comedy revolves around a glamorous silent film couple, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, facing the challenges of making the transition to of talking pictures after Al Jolson’s success in The Jazz Singer. As a former song and dance man, Don is well equipped to make the switch to talkies, but Lina‘s acting chops are sorely lacking, and her harshly nasal New York accent is a disaster on film. The fan mags and studio flacks have flamed the public’s perception that Don and Lina are an “item,” and the slightly dim Lina believes the hype, but in reality Don cannot stand her. 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!

Singin’ in the Rain is first and foremost a dancer’s show, and choreographer Laura Hiszczynskyj has done a superb job of harnessing the energy of a clearly talented group of dancers. No cast can be asked to live up to the film’s original tap-lover’s dream team of Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, and Debbie Reynolds, but John David Scott (Don Lockwood), Dennis Corwin (Cosmo Brown), and Catherine Olson (Kathy Selden) still bring it, delivering key moments like the iconic couch tip and lamp post scene with panache.  Olson is supremely cute, an essential quality for her role, and her spunky charm is on full display throughout; her lovely rendition of “Lucky Star” is an added bonus.  Scott evolves neatly from sardonic nonchalance to love-struck suitor, and Corwin neatly captures the fraternal mischief of his role’s status as “always a sidekick, never a romantic lead.”

Stephanie Heuston-Willing is hilarious, both on stage and in the film segments, as the thoroughly obnoxious if somewhat pitiable Lina Lamont. Her accent never wobbles, and she manages to look slightly cross-eyed and seriously dumb throughout – a high point is her plaintive if slightly jarring “What’s Wrong With Me?”  Maria Tucker sparkles every time she dances onto the stage, and sets a spectacular standard for the rest of the dance ensemble.

Another show highlight comes from Musical Director Beth Noelle and her tiny orchestra, who do full justice to the show’s 20+ songs. Technical Director/Lighting Designer Kurt Herman and the rest of the crew make full use of the theater’s projection capabilities, both for the faux silent film clips and in the creation of the Hollywoodland and other backdrops – and little or no time is lost to scene changes. Grace O’Malley’s costume designs perfectly capture the ‘20s glamour of the show, and little touches like Don and Cosmo’s plaid suits make all the difference.

Some performances are already sold out, and even the Wednesday night seats are going fast, so anyone who wants to experience the magic of a live Singin’ In the Rain done right should hasten to the Lakewood Center for the Arts’ website and buy tickets immediately.

Singin’ In the Rain is playing at the Lake Oswego’s Lakewood Center for the Arts through Sunday, June 9th.