SING IN THE RAIN at the Phoenix Theater Company
BWW review: Singin’ in the rain
I had a hard time writing this review. Not because the series is bad, but because it’s hard to do justice to a series that has such a fantastic predecessor. Sing in the rain is one of my favorite movies and musicals of all time. I also don’t want to overlook the work it takes to put on a show, as I know firsthand how difficult it is and the work it takes. I’ve said it before, but it feels good to sit in an audience again. I entered the evening expecting to be charmed and hoping for an escape, but left this spectacle unsatisfied.
Robert Kovach’s stage design is stunning and there are moving sets that are innovative and surprising. The costumes are splendid in their complexity. Lena Lamont has some of the best costumes I’ve ever seen on stage. CeCe Sickler did a phenomenal job of dressing the entire cast to fit the period and allowing the actors to use the costumes to their advantage. Don Lockwood’s suits are particularly elegant. The hairstyle and makeup also go perfectly with the costumes and the bright and cheerful nature of the set. Kelly Yurko is responsible for the hair and makeup design. The lighting design was created by Daniel Davisson and Dave Temby created the sound design. There were a few times when the mics cut out during the performance, but they came back on straight away, so no important information was missed.
It was nice to hear a live band. The music of Sing in the rain is simple and timeless, so hearing the Orchestra play the overture was particularly exciting. Conducted by Jeff Kennedy, the Orchestra is phenomenal. They also get a good shout out during the curtain call and I enjoyed seeing the musicians backstage.
Michael Starr plays Don Lockwood. I wanted more Starr than a version of Gene Kelly. I felt like the chemistry between Lockwood and Cosmo was good, but nothing magical. I didn’t believe he was so attracted to Kathy either. Maybe it was because it was preview night, but I didn’t get the romance I was hoping for from Don and Kathy. Starr is a skilled dancer, and I was impressed with the tap numbers and expertise required for “Singin’ in the Rain,” but I didn’t get the elation or unbridled excitement of why Lockwood sings in the rain.
As Cosmo, Blake Patrick Spellacy nailed every dance move. He’s also a skilled tapper, but “Make ’em Laugh” was essentially the same choreography from the movie. It does it well, but I had hoped to see a unique presentation of this classic scene, and I was left wanting. Spellacy has excellent comedic timing and her stamina is impressive. Without a doubt, he has the most physically challenging role.
I confess that I am biased when it comes to Kathy Selden. I’ve loved Debbie Reynolds all my life and anyone would have a hard time impressing me in that role. Elyssa Blonder is a fantastic dancer, and her singing voice is adequate, but Kathy’s flair and stubbornness were lacking. It also could have been a glimpse of the nerves, but Kathy is meant to be a firecracker knocking everyone off Don and I felt that was missing.
Lena Lamont is not supposed to be friendly. She’s a diva through and through and Emily Mohney nails it. I liked that she made her voice as annoying as possible, but that she didn’t copy Jean Hagen’s mannerisms or affectations. Mohney deservedly got the biggest laughs and his rendition of “What is Wrong With Me” was a highlight of the night. Navigating the stage in those costumes wouldn’t have been easy either, so kudos to Mohney for making it easy.
The supporting roles are well cast. Sally Jo Bannow plays Dora Bailey, Mrs. Dinsmore, and several other ensemble roles. She has a natural stage presence and clearly enjoys being in this show. Geoff Belliston plays Roscoe Dexter, the director, and shouts a little too much for my liking. I understand the director needs to have a strong presence, but screaming isn’t my favorite way to describe it. D. Scott Withers plays RF Simpson, the studio head. Simpson clearly panders to his actors, but I wish Withers had given Simpson a bit more backbone. Simpson is a powerful man and I felt Withers simpers too much in front of Lamont for the stature of his position.
This whole show is wonderful. The voices blend well and their stage presence makes the dance numbers shine. My favorite set number is “Broadway Melody” in the second act. This extended scene had unique choreography and showcased the talent of the entire cast. The electricity of this scene and the energy of the music make it a remarkable number. It was what I had hoped to see the whole show and was glad to see the set presented.
Despite my criticism of the series, I think it’s an interesting production to watch. I was disappointed to see a lot of the movie acted out on stage, but I love the movie and the story is fun. When I go to the theatre, I want to see how the creative team and the actors can tell the same story but from a different angle and add their distinctive touches. Directed by Jeff Whiting, with musical direction by Jeff Kennedy and choreographed by Lauran Stanis, Singin’ in the Rain runs through April 3, 2022 at the Phoenix Theater. You can buy tickets here. Masks are not required at the Phoenix Theater, but are highly recommended. You can also check the Special Performance Schedule for information on required mask and vaccines and ASL/Audio Describe nighttime performances.
Photo credit: Reg Madison Photography