Classic…that is a loaded word. It means that for better or worse it is beloved enough to have its fans, and it means that any remake or deviation is usually going to be looked at with a more critical eye than is possibly deserved. Alas, the weight of bringing a classic to stage, and rain to California, has fallen to the current SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN production from San Diego Musical theatre now playing at the Speckels Theater.
This classic has a particularly high standard to meet as this is the vehicle which Donald O‘Connor made us laugh and Gene Kelly taught us all that there was more to do than just jump in puddles while out in the rain.
The good news is that this version of this musical has plenty to recommend it. Set in the 1920’s, with the look and feel of the 1950’s movie, we follow Don Lockwood and Lana Lamont who are the darlings of the silent movie world. When the JAZZ SINGER comes and throws down the gauntlet in the form of a movie with sound they find they have to change with the times as well. This is alright for Don with a voice as smooth as his dance moves but alas, Lana has a voice grating enough you could use it as sandpaper. Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown and aspiring actress Kathy Selden have a plan to help if only that shark in a flappers dress Lana would play along.
Brittany Rose Hammond as Kathy is sweet voiced and a good dancer, so it’s not hard to see the enticement she presents Don as they work together. You believe her in the beginning when she sets Don in his place and you believe her throughout as they slide sweetly into love with each other. Cameron Lewis as Don’s funny sidekick is entertaining and a good dancer, but he is overshadowed by the ease with which Brandon Davidson and Hammond fit into their roles. Also, I LOVE Donald O’Connor, so I may be a tougher sell on the role than is technically required.
As Don, this show is all about Davidson and he is completely at ease in this era. His vocals, charm, and dancing are what you really came to this show for and he doesn’t disappoint. Davidson is as comfortable in this tap happy role in the first act as he is in the ballet sequence in the second act. He is light hearted and lovely in the iconic title song and dance number, and isn’t afraid to get wet as he dances through the (actual) rain coming down upon him. I hope for his sake the water is a least warm!
As Lana, Andi Davis is convincing as the beautiful conniving Hollywood diva, and her second act number is very, very funny.
The unfortunate news is that the stage version shows the real reason why you don’t see this “classic” on stage more often. Like the movie, it is full of charm, color, and all that phenomenal dancing; unfortunately the plot is where it truly shows its age. The first half feels a bit overstocked with a majority of the plot, dance numbers, and the songs that you remember. Where all the scene changes and the odd transitions for the songs are forgiven in the movie, they feel a bit odd and disjointed in the stage version. The stage is a perfect host for a majority of the show, but it also requires a different pacing and a bit more plot to sustain it when performed live. So “Singing in more of a shower and less of a rain” might be more accurate here, but I assume it that would probably evoke a different feeling than the original name intended.
Ultimately, this is a fun and entertaining show with all of the songs, the dancing you expect, with the added bonus of the fantastic orchestra led by Don LeMaster. Consistently, San Diego Musical Theatre shows they are not afraid to just rise to the challenge to bring the classics to the stage, but that they are always up for the challenge to bring a full orchestra to musical theatre as well!
Much like any time it actually rains here, it’ only here for a brief time, so catch this rain while you can. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN is playing at the Spreckels Theater through June 7th. For ticket information call (858) 560-5740 or go to www.sdmt.org