By Lynn Venhaus
The shimmer of Hollywood’s Dream Factory sparks magic at The Muny in the breezy tour de force, “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Even before leading man Corbin Bleu sang the familiar intro “Doo dloo doo doo doo…” the audience applauded in anticipation. In fact, as soon as they saw the streetscape, there was a murmur. As Bleu delivered the iconic title number with verve, the glee was palpable – from both the fleet-footed performer and an enthusiastic crowd, sharing a genuine moment.
Portraying popular silent screen star Don Lockwood, Bleu proved he was a superior showman, delivering a knockout large-scale “Broadway Rhythm,” jaunty “Good Morning” and tender “You Stepped Out of a Dream.”
But that splashy show-stopper drew robust whoops, shouts and cheers, as well as thunderous applause, to end Act I. It was as glorious as everyone hoped it would be.
This 1985 musical adaptation stays faithful to the 1952 film’s alluring Tinsel Town setting, when “Talkies” were introduced in the 1920s, sending movie stars into a tizzy about transitioning from the silent era to talking pictures. Its deft blend of drama, romance and comical situations still captivates decades later.
Broadway legends Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the screenplay, while Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen co-directed and choreographed. Arthur Freed wrote the lyrics and Nacio Herb Brown composed the music.
The movie masterpiece’s uplifting song-and-dance numbers were tailor-made for transforming to the stage, and the Muny’s snappy ensemble displayed an infectious energy and good cheer.
This splendid production, the Muny’s sixth rendition, glistened with light and love. Its trio of triple threats zestily filled the big shoes created by Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
Bleu, a teen heartthrob in Disney’s “High School Musical” phenomenon, has grown into a charismatic performer – he showcased not only superb skills but agility and grace in dance numbers and smoothly connected to songs. With some Broadway credits behind him, he seized this role with gusto, signaling he’s now a major musical star.
He paired well with the acrobatic Jeffrey Schecter, funny and charming as Don’s best pal Cosmo, and Muny veteran Berklea Going, who sweetly soared as spunky ingenue Kathy Selden.
Being part of the Muny since age 7, and seen in the supporting role of Ermengarde in 2014’s “Hello, Dolly!”, Going was more than ready for her leading lady close-up. She glided through dance numbers and sang with panache. She was silky perfection in “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You,” and shined in the duet “You Were Meant for Me” on the sound stage ladder.
Their chemistry together is notable, and they appear to be having great fun in these roles. They might not have been totally in sync for every number opening night, but they projected such vitality. A tech rehearsal rain-out prevented a run-through of Act II, so any little glitch was understood.
The nimbleness and crisp timing between Don and Cosmo for “Moses Supposes” was a high point, as was Cosmo’s signature “Make ‘Em Laugh.”
Schecter, a delight as the Seagull in last year’s “The Little Mermaid,” garnered much acclaim for assuming the challenging role of Psuedolus in the following show, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” without much preparation time after star Peter Scolari bowed out for health reasons.
Schecter earned much good will for that performance, and a St. Louis Theater Circle nomination. Now, as the mirthful Cosmo, he became a bona fide Muny favorite.
However, the show’s scene-stealer is Megan Sikora as the vain, conniving and ditzy actress Lina Lamont, whose obnoxious personality and screechy voice won’t withstand the demands of the new “Talkies” era.
She clings to Don as a beau because the tabloids convince everyone they are a pair, and she schemes to hurt Kathy’s career, even though Kathy’s voice is being subbed for her uncouth tones.
Sikora sashayed like a diva but her character’s elevator doesn’t go to the top floor, so to speak. She is an absolute hoot every time she opens her mouth, and royally amused the 8,000+ crowd with her fire and flair.
Dandy supporting work included Debby Lennon as Hollywood reporter Dora Bailey and diction coach Phoebe Dinsmore, Gary Glasgow as another diction coach, Patrick Blindauer as studio publicity staffer Rod, Jeff McCarthy as Monumental Pictures head R.F. Simpson and George Merrick as director Roscoe Dexter.
Dancer Lizz Picini glimmered as the sultry Girl in the Green Dress during the spectacular “Broadway Rhythm” number.
With unbridled joy, director Marc Bruni and choreographer Rommy Sandhu honored the source material. Music director Ben Whiteley fluidly kept the rhythm captivating and the orchestrations upbeat.
They lovingly recreated the classic elements of what some consider to be the best movie musical of all-time (No. 1 on AFI’s Greatest Movie Musicals list — and mine, too) for the Muny’s vast landscape.
The production team’s desire for pizzazz was particularly impressive. Costume designer Tristan Raines dazzled with glamorous vintage fashions. Scenic designer Paul Tate dePoo III’s stunning stormy street, efficient studio settings, and massive show biz backdrops took us back to a specific time and place.
The technical work also stood out: lighting design by Nathan W. Scheuer, sound design by John Shivers and David Patridge, and video design by Greg Emetaz.
The sound played a big role in the story, and Shivers and Patridge expertly conveyed its role on stage and screens. Emetaz’s videos capturing movie reels and daily prints on the LED screen were outstanding. Those integrations were very effective.
This is one show where, after the inventive curtain call, everyone leaves with a smile on their face, a song in their heart, and an urge to stomp in a puddle or two.