Review: Singin’ in the Rain

Richard Riaz Yoder (center) in Singin’ the Rain
Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
June 26, 2019

At intermission of Lyric Theatre’s new production of Singin’ in the Rain, someone who works in the theater profession told me she has probably seen the motion picture version more times than any other movie. It may be the most seen film of all time. So, we can’t help but come to the show with expectations. It’s usually not a good idea to go to the theater with expectations.

In the early 1980s, a stage adaptation was made of the beloved 1952 film. It’s the same story, characters, and adapted screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.

Now at the Thelma Gaylord and directed by Michael Baron, the Lyric production trickles when it should gush. The show has its moments, though, and some fine ones at that.

Baron has tried to modernize it by adding some same-sex couples, racial diversity, and males and females in drag. These affectations have no effect other than to draw notice.

Everyone knows the title song and most “Make ‘Em Laugh,” but the score has plenty of other gems, such as the tuneful “Lucky Star” and “You Were Meant for Me.” Two of my favorites have always been “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes.” At the reviewed performance, “Good Morning” almost stopped the show.

In the leads, Jeremy Benton plays Don Lockwood, Richard Riaz Yoder is Cosmo Brown, Tatum Grace Ludlam is Kathy Seldon, and Lexi Windsor rakes her fingernails across the blackboard vocally as Lina Lamont, triple threats all. Windsor has the advantage of playing one of the great bumbling villainesses of movie musicals. She nails one of my favorite lines of dialog: “People! I ain’t people!”

Lyn Cramer choreographed the show, so you know it will have plenty of tap dancing. She brings on the entire ensemble to tap a thundering “Broadway Rhythm” as a semi-finale. “Moses Supposes” is the best scene in the show with tapping by Benton and Yoder and the delightful Phoebe Butts and Stephen Hilton as voice coaches who try to prepare Lockwood and Lamont for the talkies. Cramer hews with accuracy to much of the movie’s choreography (by Gene Kelly), notably in “Fit as a Fiddle.” In “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Yoder comes noticeably close to Donald O’Connor’s  classic performance in the movie.

As with recent Lyric productions, this one runs the color gamut in Helena Kuukka’s lighting design and Jeffrey Meek’s costumes. Meek displays the goods in the completely superfluous “Beautiful Girl.”

But this production sprinkles, or maybe drizzles, when it should pour, to wit, in the title song, which is the first-act finale. “Singin’ in the Rain” may be the most famous musical number in film history. So, the main reason for adapting the movie to the stage is to recreate that spectacle live in real time before our very eyes. I’ve seen this show done much, much soggier than what you’ll see here. Uldarico Sarmiento’s scenic design hardly gets the stage wet. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to tell if water is actually falling on stage. Benton does a fine job singing and dancing the song, but he has no puddles to splash around in. Thus, the title song comes off flat and anticlimactic. It’s hard to understand Lyric’s thinking in the staging of this number, which should have been the highlight of the show.

With what’s going on in this country and the world today, Singin’ the Rain counts as escapist theater. How guilty you feel about that is up to you. But the show also has an unexpected currency. It’s about talkies encroaching on the silent-film era. In other words, the characters have to figure out how to cope with drastic changes in their workplace technology. Most of us certainly can relate to that.

Singin’ in the Rain adapted from the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Sunday, through June 30
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
Tickets start at $32
405-524-9312

Review: Disaster!

Odra Chapman (l) and Brenda Williams in Disaster!   Photo by James Michael Avance

By Larry Laneer
June 17, 2019

Anyone who titles a musical Disaster! is asking for it. But Pollard Theatre Company’s production of that show is anything but a disaster. That’s certainly not to say it’s a great show.

The show’s creators—Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, and Drew Geraci—were inspired by disaster motion pictures of the last century (think Earthquake or The Towering Inferno). But they spoof the genre, which is ripe for spoofing, with an inane jukebox musical.

The show has no original music. The score consists of 30 songs of the period, or, at least, a few bars of them. The songs’ tenuous or contrived connection to the story will more likely induce eyerolling than admiration.

The Pollard program doesn’t help with this information, but the show is set on a casino ship moored in New York City in 1979. The tawdry, poorly constructed, rat-infested casino looks like it could have been built by Donald Trump. A “disaster expert” ascertains an earthquake is imminent, and the shoddy casino ship won’t survive it. Then, after some harrowing experiences, everyone (well, almost everyone) survives to sing and dance the finale. The show makes 1979 look like ancient history. One character orders a Fresca, and another smokes on an elevator.

Disaster! tests the proven abilities of sure-handed director and choreographer Matthew Sipress Banks. The show needs an over-the-top production, and Sipress Banks has given it an as over-the-top production as Pollard probably can stage. But he is working with highly inferior material here.

Regardless, the production features some appealing performances. With pros like Charlie Monnot, Matthew Alvin Brown, Brenda Williams, and De’Vin Lewis, the show should have something going for it. In her debut, Odra Chapman plays a conflicted nun and makes theatergoers want to see her in other, more substantial roles. She enlivens every scene in which she appears without scenery chewing or mugging. Erin Heatly plays 11-year-old twins, Lisa and Ben, with impish precociousness. The scene where both twins sing a song with their mother is not new, but Heatly does it with hustling charm. Williams seems constantly on the verge of turning into Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. The character is obviously based on Winters in that picture.

The production’s design reflects the artistic level of the show. With many scene changes, W. Jerome Stevenson’s scenic design keeps the action moving. Michael James’s costumes achieve period accuracy. The cheap, or cheap-looking, props by Timothy Stewart fit the overall concept of the production.

A five-piece, heavily synthesized combo accompanies the show. The score includes many of the biggest hits of the period, so compared to the originals, the songs in this production sound like versions done by hopeful cover bands.

The Pollard production in no way resembles a disaster. The show is more of a speedbump, a trifle that slows you down.

Disaster! by Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, and Drew Geraci
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through June 29
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie
$30 with discounts for students, military, and seniors
405-282-2800

 

Review: The Comedy of Errors

Jordan Nicholes (l) and Tyler John Malinauskas in The Comedy of Errors
Photo by April Porterfield

By Larry Laneer
June 10, 2019

Now in its 35th season, Oklahoma Shakespeare has dropped “in the Park” from its name and returned to the park for a production of The Comedy of Errors at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage. Like they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. As can happen at the Water Stage, the production comes off as a tedious uproar.

Shakespeare based Comedy of Errors on a work by the Roman dramatist Plautus (c. 254-184 B.C.E.). The play teems with opportunities for directors and actors to ham it up, and this production, directed by D. Lance Marsh, never misses a chance to do so. On the other hand, it may not be possible to do the play any other way. In reacting to the performance, you’re more likely to think “Oh, that’s a funny part,” rather than laugh out loud.

This is an early Shakespeare comedy, before he had honed his skills at the form. Two sets of Syracusan identical twins become separated in a shipwreck as infants and accidentally meet years later in Ephesus to the confusion of everybody. Cases of mistaken identity happen in almost every scene.

The cast has locked on to Marsh’s concept for the show. Tyler John Malinauskas and Jordan Nicholes about equal each other in scenery chewing as the Dromios. Malinauskas’s Dromio is a slightly more impudent servant, while Nicholes’s Dromio is more tractable.

Both with wispy beards, Dustin Dale Barlow and Sam Pinson play the Antipholuses, the other set of twins. Both pairs of twins wear identical costumes (by Emily Herrera), which add to the illusion of identicalness, with the Antipholuses sporting spiffy, brown-and-white wingtips.

As the sisters Adriana and Luciana, Rachel Ryan Nicholes and Rachel Necessary hang in there  amid the chaos. Allison Gregory makes a droll Doctor Pinch. As Aegeon, David Pasto gives the most sympathetic performance in the play.

The Water Stage is a fine outdoor amphitheater, but sound, or rather, noise, is always an issue there. OS uses stage microphones and three speakers which do a good job of supporting the actors’ voices without overpowering them. But Marsh, as have other OS directors, often has actors go into the audience or on a short bridge between the stage and audience, thus taking the actors off mic. That’s fine if the actors are facing you, but if they face the other way, the dialog is lost or garbled. It’s a mystery why OS directors do this. Ryan Fischer’s scenic design of Ionian stucco with its three doors recalls ancient Roman theater.

Marsh gets credit for getting on with it. He has streamlined the script and brings the show to port in under two hours. This will be OS’s only production at Water Stage this season, so if you’re chaotically inclined and don’t mind sweating a little, see it while you can.

The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare
8:00 p.m Thursdays-Saturdays, through June 29
Myriad Gardens Water Stage
301 W. Reno Ave.
$20
1-800-838-3006