By Jeff Ritter
There is a certain kind of thrill you get when you see a performer who just completely transforms into their character. When it comes to a classic like “Singin’ in the Rain,” which recently closed its far-too-brief run at The Muny, the measuring stick will always be musical motion picture great Gene Kelly.
At the Muny, leading man Corbin Bleu stood tall. This triple threat performer may only measure 5′ 9″ — but Gene Kelly was only 5′ 7″ — and Bleu is poised to be a giant star right now.
The stage musical of “Singin’ in the Rain” was adapted from the 1952 film, and stays pretty true the film’s story. On the heels of “The Jazz Singer,” the first talking picture, Hollywood studio honcho R. F. Simpson (Jeff McCarthy) needs to crank out a hit follow-up.
The silent picture currently in production, “The Dueling Cavalier,” starring the much loved early cinema stars Don Lockwood (Bleu) and Lina Lamont (Megan Sikora), is thrown into disarray as they rework the film into a talking musical, “The Dancing Cavalier.”
Lockwood, the consummate pro, takes to the new task easily, but Lamont, who thinks Don is in love with her when their relationship is barely even cordial, has a horrible voice for singing or acting. She also has an iron-clad contract.
While Lamont screeches her way through rehearsals, Lockwood fancies budding new actress Kathy Selden (Berklea Going), who possesses a wonderful voice.
Fortunately, Lockwood’s pal Cosmo Brown (Jeffrey Schecter) is a talented performer himself and figures out how to save the picture — dub Seldon’s voice over Lamont’s dialogue and singing!
At the movie premiere, the ruse is exposed, and much like the more modern “Milli Vanilli” lip-syncing fiasco, Lamont is all but banished and Lockwood, Selden and Cosmo live presumably happily ever after.
There aren’t enough superlatives to explain just how perfect Corbin Bleu was in this performance. The man sang wonderfully, danced splendidly and acted superbly. Jazz, tap, you name it — everything he did was precise yet engaging, not merely technically proficient. Bleu will be a big name in the theatre world for as long as he wants to do it.
Matching him stride for stride, Jeffrey Schecter’s character was there for comic relief but Schecter’s dancing elevated him to a true co-star. The dancing they do in “Fit As a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes” was jaw-dropping already, but “Good Morning,” which added Berklea Going to the big song and dance number, had the audience trembling in anticipation of riotous applause. They all took full advantage of the Muny’s rotating stage, making the talented threesome’s tap routine an unforgettable performance.
Nothing, of course, can top Bleu performing the title song as only Gene Kelly before him could. The Muny production included a system to make it actually rain onstage, and Bleu exhibited charisma by the barrel.
After so many great routines and the fantastic rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain,” the entire second act was almost anticlimactic. There was one number towards the end of the production where Don goes through a strange dream sequence of performing on Broadway.
This occurred in the film too, and it felt completely out-of-place in both. It seems Gene Kelly had some creative control over his films and insisted on this dance number mostly just to show off, and it made its way into the musical as well. Everyone involved, from Bleu to the ensemble, performed it well but it just doesn’t make much sense in terms of the narrative.
“Singin’ in the Rain” ran from June 27 to July 3, but rest assured you haven’t seen the last of Bleu bringing down the house in St. Louis.
Another local favorite, “Jersey Boys,” is slated to begin on July 9. Visit Muny.org/tickets for “Jersey Boys,” “Annie,” “Gypsy,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
Better still, make a day of it and visit the Missouri History Museum’s new exhibit “Muny Memories – 100 Seasons Onstage” before every show this summer. Admission to the History Museum is free, and it’s air-conditioned!
Photos by Phillip Hamer