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