“Singin’ in the Rain” is a big, ambitious musical, spectacularly performed on the sacristy risers of the Randall Theatre Company’s Jacksonville Stage.
One of the biggest movie musical hits in history, “Singin’ in the Rain” was released in 1952 and starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor. It’s a romantic comedy that spoofs the American film industry in its 1920s transition from silent movies to talkies. “Singin’ in the Rain’s” iconic scenes and songs are rooted in this country’s collective movie memory. What a pleasure to see these classics performed at the Randall, the production all dolled up with 21st century moving picture wizardry.
Randall’s “Singin’ in the Rain” has a fabulous lead cast: Robin Downward as Don Lockwood, Elizabeth Suzanne as Lina Lamont, Deborah Downward as Kathy Selden and Erny Rosales as Cosmo Brown. A troupe of 20 crowd the small stage, at times in specific movie-making roles, others as ensemble in complicated, tightly choreographed scenes.
Suzanne assumes Lina’s whining, nasally, New York speech patterns without visible effort, and is the picture-perfect witless, monomaniacal, platinum beauty that the role demands. Lina stands alone, center stage in a silent film era when the only required asset is a pretty face. “Wot’s wrong wit the way I tawwk?” she asks.
Lina’s easily outmaneuvered by new blood and experienced performers who can remember their lines, carry a tune and actually act. Suzanne as Lina spends a lot of time up on a small riser with garlands and pots and arbors — an area too small for the requirements of the scenes, but perhaps deliberately small to save space on the stage, and to emphasize Lina’s solitary ridiculousness.
The Downwards and Rosales shine brilliantly on stage as a perfectly timed, coordinated and talented team who help to invent the moving picture industry.
Robin Downward struts his stuff in tux and soft shoe, as handsome and smooth on stage as a young Alec Baldwin — who can resist screen star Don Lockwood? Certainly not Lina Lamont, Lockwood’s screaming fans nor the young ingénue, Kathy Selden played by the talented Deborah Downward. It’s Deborah Downward’s lovely voice that rings pure and true, when as Kathy Selden she graciously saves the show from Lina’s all-consuming celebrity ego.
Perhaps the greatest pleasure of the evening is Erny Rosales as Cosmo Brown. Rosales’ physical acting, timing, expressive features and ability to share the spotlight are superb. Often in constant motion — leaps, bounds, splits and tumbles — Rosales never seems to take a breath and never misses a word. We’ve seen him in a variety of roles here in the Rogue Valley over the last four years, and Rosales’ range, capacity and athleticism are exciting to watch. He’s a consummate performer.
“Singin’ in the Rain” has the benefit of some 21st century movie making magic, thanks to the technical staff and Greg Franklin Productions. Greg Franklin Productions put together the show’s film clips of “The Dueling Cavaliere,” which run first as black and white stills framed up with a scratchy old-timey filter and period script. Scenes from the musical version of “The Dueling Cavaliere” are filmed again and again — “CUT, CUT!” sounding loud and repeatedly, every difficulty evident until at last Deborah Downward’s voice as Kathy Selden is cut in over Lina Lamont’s and the show is finally a wrap.
Always of interest in a staged production of “Singin’ in the Rain” is the rain. Some productions have been shorted out when water is sprayed onto the set; in others, the sound of the water falling is so loud that the performers are drowned out. In this production, the rain is a trick of lighting, a scrim projection that fills the theater with moving raindrop patterns, an effective, safe and aesthetically pleasing alternative.
Robin Downward has Gene Kelly’s energy and rhythm in his singular performance of “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Good Mornin’,” performed by Downward, Downward and Rosales, is similarly outstanding. Unfortunately, all of the numbers are soft shoe rather than tap in order to save the stage risers, but nevertheless, that final eponymous number is impressive. Think of the careful practice required to fit 20 cast members on that small stage with open umbrellas spinning and swooping about, no one putting out an eye or tripping up a partner — impressive indeed.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is a fine way to while away a winter evening. Grab your umbrella, stroll about Jacksonville, and then stop in at the Randall Theatre. On the way out, do a quiet little shuffle, spank, heel and step, maybe a quick Cincinnati or a Bombershay and give that umbrella a twirl.
“Singin’ in the Rain,” directed by Livia Genise, runs through Feb. 11 at 520 N. Fifth St. in the Calvary Church of God. For tickets and more information, visit www.RandallTheatre.com or phone 541-632-3258.
— Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at firstname.lastname@example.org.