Singin' in the Rain gets lost in the flood

Courtesy of Vicki Madsen

Considering how much of a Frankenstein's monster Singin' in the Rain was in its inception, it is amazing that the show is, 60 years after its original release, a true classic. The film was intended mainly as a star vehicle for its cast and a way to get some songs from a diverse set of earlier stage vehicles into a movie.

Via the feet of Gene Kelly, the voice of Debbie Reynolds, and the comic timing of Donald O'Connor — not to mention the strong chemistry among the three — Singin' in the Rain soars above its simple story and cobbled-together nature to become a classic example of the film-only musical.

It took about 30 years, but the show finally did come to the stage in the early 1980s. Since then, the less-successful stage adaptation has been produced in fits and starts on Broadway and in the West End, along with regional and local theaters throughout the United States. The always-eager team at Bloomington Civic Theatre is the latest to try to crack the hard nut of the stage version, succeeding somewhat to retain the original's charms but eventually getting bogged down in the unnecessary additions made to the live version.

That starts with the original trio I mentioned and the chemistry they had. It's a tough task for actors to work at the same levels as Kelly, Reynolds, and O'Connor. While the players here are more than adequate in their roles, the memories of the original (burned by repeated viewings over the years) are hard to shake.

Beyond that is the musical itself, which uses a story originally written for film. In adapting it to the stage, the creators decided to end the first act with the iconic title song. In a vacuum, that's not a bad choice. It's the film's most famous scene (only O'Connor's wall-running bits in "Make 'Em Laugh" come close) and makes for a spectacular moment before the curtain.

It doesn't fit so deftly into the actual story, however (about the transition from silent to talking movies and love blossoming on the set), as it comes about three-quarters of the way through the action. That means the second act gets ballooned out to the point that the fun vibe that's been so carefully nurtured up until now seeps out of the proceedings. The cast members look like they're having fun all the way to the end. I wasn't.

Still, the Bloomington Civic cast and crew do a solid job making this broken musical work. It starts with director and choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell, who creates a vibrant atmosphere that showcases the performers' dancing skills. Some numbers work better than others. "Moses Supposes" explodes into an acrobatic, full-stage dance-off. "Make 'Em Laugh" gives us a string of pratfalls and high jinks.

The title song comes off fairly well, though there is only a tiny bit of actual water onstage, falling through a downspout. So there's no jolly splashing through streets full of water, no joy while getting soaked to the skin by a deluge. Instead, it's another tap number in a show packed with them. Even a puddle or two might have helped to bring out a bit more spirit.

The main players here do good work as well, with C. Ryan Shipley oozing charm as Don Lockwood and Holli Richgels providing the spunk, if maybe not the right level of vulnerability, as young starlet-to-be Kathy Selden. At times, Jeffrey C. Nelson seems to be playing Donald O'Connor playing Cosmo Brown, but his loose-limbed dancing eventually wins the day.

In his notes, director Ferrell talks up conductor Anita Ruth and the 22-piece orchestra, and I'll echo that sentiment. After hearing so much synthesized strings and brass at musicals, it is delightful to hear the full, real sound of the instruments. All of this makes for a show that is a lot of fun at the beginning but less so as time goes on. It's perfectly pleasant, but my main wish after watching this was to revisit the film.

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