Someone’s having a birthday; everybody sings. This young lad has won an award; we all applaud. Westchester Broadway Theatre has become part of the fabric of so many lives.
Singin’ in the Rain is typical of the upbeat, family oriented musicals which are presented here. After a pleasant dinner, and announcements from the genial House Manager, Steve, the show is about to begin. If anyone in this audience is in a bad mood, you’d never know it from the happy chatter and smiling faces.
The story is familiar to most but not to all. It’s old Hollywood in 1922, on the cusp of the era of the talkies. Silent movie stars Don Lockwood (Jeremy Benton) and Lina Lamont (Allie Schauer) arrive at the premiere of their new film. They’re interviewed by Dora Bailey (Karen Webb), a Hedda Hopper type gossip reporter. Also on hand is Cosmo Brown (Cody Williams), Don’s best friend from way back when. Brown provides the music on Lockwood and Lamont movie sets, and gladly supplies the wisecracking comic relief.
When Lockwood flees his adoring mob of fans, he encounters Kathy Seldon, an adorable but haughty young actress who informs Don that what he does isn’t really acting. Stung, Don dubs her “Ethel Barrymore,” and then runs off when his fans are alerted by Kathy, “Look, it’s Don Lockwood!”
But the actor is already smitten by the sassy girl, and delighted to see her jump out of a cake at a party thrown by the head of the studio, R.F Simpson (William McCauley). After Kathy and the other showgirls strut their stuff, Simpson unveils film he has of a man talking onscreen. It’s meant to be an amusement, but little does the assemblage realize that their lives will soon be turned upside down.
On the set, Lina tries to adapt to the new technique of talking into a hidden microphone. She fails miserably, and the movie is a disaster. But Don has found Kathy, and together with Cosmo, they concoct a plan to save the film.
This production is created with great attention to detail. I especially love the costumes, including the flapper’s glittered bathing caps; Don and Lina’s matching white trench coat and fur; and the Marie Antoinette inspired powdered wig, gown, and acres of pearls.
The sets are sparse, but a “Hollywoodland” sign bolsters the authenticity. The audience waits in gleeful anticipation to see what’s been done to create the rain effect, which is arguably the highlight of the evening. If you don’t want to get wet, make sure you don’t sit in the front row.
On the subject of notes to the audience, please remember that just because you know the words to a song, that doesn’t mean you have to join in the singing. The cast is plenty capable, and then some. Special kudos to them for being ever so careful in repeating the word “cahn’t” over and over again. This could so easily turn nasty.
Jeremy Benton has an easy charm perfectly suited to Don Lockwood. Add a fine singing voice, and some very professional dance moves, and you’ve got a leading man who effortlessly holds together the show. When he strikes the iconic Gene Kelly light post pose, the audience is elated by the sheer joy of the moment.
Equally talented is Shannon M. O’Bryan, who makes Kathy Seldon spunky and endearing. The actress does resemble the young Debbie Reynolds, and her smile alone has enough wattage to light up the stage. She sings like an angel, and dances like a demon; and it’s no wonder she’d capture the fancy of a movie star.
Cody Williams’ love of performing translates beautifully in all his musical numbers, and he brings down the house with the extremely difficult flips and backwards somersaults of “Make ‘em Laugh.” Donald O’Connor was one of my favorite stars, and I was glad to see justice done to his signature song. Williams has the rare gift of connecting with the audience through his work, and when he dances, everyone is transported.
It’s worth the price of admission to experience Benton, O’Bryan, and Williams tapping their hearts out in “Good Mornin.” These engaging young actors bring unstoppable energy and enthusiasm to a first class production. They’re well supported by the rest of the cast, especially Allie Schauer and William McCauley.
This production is bathed in pink light, which adds a dreamy romantic quality to the play. Anyone who doesn’t have a great time watching this show should seriously consider getting therapy.
Photo credit: John Vecchiolla
Singin’ in the Rain
Through June 12, 2011
Westchester Broadway Theatre
1 Broadway Plaza
Elmsford NY 10523
Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. She is a voting member of Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, American Theatre Critics Association, and International Association of Theatre Critics. www.michalljeffers.com