By Bob Curtright
The amazing thing about director/choreographer Linda Goodrich’s new production of “Singin’ in the Rain” for Music Theatre of Wichita is how picture-perfect her stage homage is to the beloved and classic 1952 movie with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
Particularly since Goodrich and her magnificent crew of singers and dancers don’t have the advantage of numerous retakes, edits, special effects or dubbing.
All of our favorite moments are there, re-created with a loving touch, from the “Good Morning” romp involving dancing all over the furniture to an expanded “Broadway Melody” that’s practically a three-act dance marathon by itself.
And, yes, Goodrich and David Elder in the Kelly role conquer the “Singin’ in the Rain” segment spectacularly, sprinkling and splashing joyfully throughout the full length of the Music Theatre stage. With sure-footed grace and boundless energy, Elder captures every nuance and detail, from jumping in puddles like an exuberant kid to leaping ecstatically onto a lamppost to proclaim his love for his lady to the world.
Elder plays Don Lockwood, a former vaudevillian turned silent-film leading man, who hits on the genius idea of becoming a musical star as the best way to make the transition to “talkies” in 1920s Hollywood. Broadway veteran Elder has matinee idol good looks and a toothpaste-ad smile as well as a lanky grace and man-for-all-seasons dancing abilities from tap to soft shoe to a touch of ballet here and there. Elder is actually Kelly 2.0 — all the athleticism (including a back flip) and style but with a stronger singing voice.
Cary Tedder plays Cosmo Brown, Don’s brash best buddy and former vaudeville dancing partner. Tedder re-creates O’Connor’s quirky “Make ’Em Laugh” production number with affectionate precision, from hilariously flirting with a stuffed dummy on a couch to doing back flips against a wall. And when Tedder joins forces with Elder for a couple of rousing tap routines (“Fit as a Fiddle,” “Moses Supposes”), they stop the show.
Keeping up with those two balls of energy are Mary Michael Patterson as Kathy Selden, an eager Hollywood ingenue who keeps Don at arm’s length but ultimately falls for the real man behind the screen image. Patterson has a fresh and lovely voice for romantic tunes like “You Are My Lucky Star” and “Would You.” She’s also a delightful presence who is enthusiastic and energetic without being stereotypically perky.
Stealing the show every time she opens her mouth is Anne Horak as glamorous silent star Lina Lamont, whose nasally Bronx-ese can shatter glass and dooms her future career in talkies. In a song not in the original movie, Horak as Lina laments to her mirror, “What’s Wrong With Me?” — and answers her own question hilariously at every turn. Horak has brilliant comic timing in a sexy package, making the contrast even funnier.
Because Lina’s voice is supposed to be terrible, Horak doesn’t get to display her normally beautiful singing voice like she did previously in “White Christmas” here. But she’ll make up for that as the lead of the next show, “Legally Blonde,” the season closer that runs Aug. 8 through 12 at Century II.
A trio of local character actors shines in minor comic turns: Bonnie Bing as a powerful gossip columnist who likes to hobnob with the stars, Charles Parker as a movie studio chief secretly cowed by one of his stars, and Timothy W. Robu as a blustery, exasperated movie director. All three inhabit their characters like easing into comfortable old shoes.
This production is seemingly one of the most technically complex for Music Theatre in recent seasons, full of beautiful 1920s sets designed by Michael Anania (enhanced by David Neville’s evocative lighting) that look more substantial than painted backdrops but appear and disappear in an instant, as if by magic. Sarah Reever’s elegantly gaudy costumes capture the reckless freedom of the period, and music director Thomas W. Douglas’ orchestra (despite a little mushiness in the overture opening night) provides energetic support befitting the kick-up-your-heels era of Charleston and tango.
Tags: 2012, 2012 Summer Season, Anne Horak, Bonnie Bing, Cary Tedder, Charles Parker, David Elder, David Neville, Linda Goodrich, Mary Michael Patterson, MTWichita, Singin' in the Rain, Thomas Wesley Douglas, Timothy Robu