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.

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