The Barter Blog
Barter's Singin' in the Rain Brings Out the Sun
October 02, 2018
Review by Bonny Gable
Since the dawn of the Golden Age of Hollywood people have sought sanctuary from a troubling world in the magic of the movie house. Barter Theatre’s Singin’ in the Rain revives that magic, at a time when we sorely need it. Stepping into a world of glamour and romance, uproarious comedy, graceful dancing and dazzling tap numbers – all in glorious Technicolor — is a sure-fire recipe for lifting your spirits.
The play is based on the 1952 MGM film, with Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. This movie has attained legendary status, regarded as the best film musical ever made, so any theatre recreating this legend on the stage has some huge shoes to fill. Recapturing the style of a grand Hollywood movie musical places high demands on a stage production – elaborate scenes cutting from one to another at a rapid pace, extravagant dance numbers, a plethora of glamorous costumes that change with each and every scene. But Barter accomplishes all of this with flair and pizazz.
In 1920s Hollywood, Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are sensational stars of the silent screen. However, when the invention of the “talkies” demands use of their voices, they realize that Lina’s screeching twang will never do. To provide dubbing of Lina’s onscreen voice Don brings in emerging starlet Kathy Seldon, and promptly falls head over heels in love with her. With Lina’s love interest in Don thwarted and film career threatened, her caterwauling reaches a fever pitch as she attempts to sabotage Kathy’s career. The love triangle incites fireworks on the set, but no one is deterred from producing a fantastic singing and dancing extravaganza of a movie musical.
As this script was born from an iconic and beloved movie, I applaud Director Richard Rose for maintaining the spirit and style of the Hollywood original while also approaching it with a fresh eye. He lets us relish the nostalgia of revisiting a magnificent and celebrated era of musical theatre infused with Barter’s own unique flavor.
This production gives new meaning to the phrase “action packed.” From sword fights to physical comedy – with its pratfalls, slapstick and silly sight gags that delight – its sights and sounds are a profusion of treats for all the senses. When Don says succinctly in Broadway Melody — “Gotta Dance!” he speaks the truth. The skill with which these dancers, and in some cases acrobats, pull off the demanding choreography is astonishing. And nothing can give you an excited buzz quite like the rapid-fire clickety-clacks of tapping feet punctuating a resounding big band musical number. Clearly dancing is a major star of this show.
Huge accolades go to Choreographer Amanda Aldridge, Assistant Choreographer Ashley Campos, and Tap Choreographer Andrew Hampton Livingston. At least half the show is comprised of dance numbers. From major production numbers to the memorable title song, from songs such as Good Mornin’ to Moses Supposes — a tongue twister song that becomes a show-stopping tap number — all three choreographers have accomplished a monumental feat with superb skill and creativity. Fully supporting all melody and motion is brilliant musical direction by Lee Harris, single- handedly creating the big band sound with the enhancement of some rousing percussion by Jerry C. Greene.
Doing double duty, Costume Designers Amanda Aldridge and Ashley Campos also dazzle with an opulence of couture in 1920s style. Like a sparkling candy dish of delicious colors the stage costumes counter the dull black and white of the silent films. It’s as if deprived of color in their films, the characters must overindulge in color on the set — and our eyes get to feast on their indulgence. The flapper dresses in darkly rich colors speckled with sequins, the pastel chiffon dresses with cloche hats, and Art Deco design gowns and headdresses — the costumes are an exquisite explosion of color and brilliance. And hats off to Whitney Kaibel for fabulous 1920s wig and hair styling, complete with Marcel waves and colors that pop, as well as the mile-high period wigs for the silent films.
Set Designer Dan Ettinger has created the feeling of walking into a Hollywood movie set. Chase lights trimming vertical light grids, a backdrop of a palm-lined street, the period cameras, the bulky light control boards, a vintage microphone — all lend a credible realism to this fantasy world of Classic film. And of course the set piece for the famous rain scene – yes, real rain right on stage — is captivating. All settings are embellished by Andrew Morehouse’s lighting, with creative use of color and shadow that take us back and forth between reality and fantasy.
Sean Maximo Campos as Don Lockwood amazes in a role he was clearly born to. Performing the iconic title song he has the playfulness of a child splashing in a puddle while maintaining the grace, finesse, and precision of the consummate dancer that he is — all while giving a gorgeous vocal rendition. It’s hard to believe we are not seeing a reincarnation of Gene Kelly.
As well as providing the ingenious tap choreography, Andrew Hampton Livingston gives a winning portrayal of comic sidekick Cosmo Brown. He is in his element performing Make ‘em Laugh where his tap dancing, acrobatics, pratfalls, and “Red Skelton” antics are fantastic physical feats that bring down the house with laughter.
Hannah Ingram nails it as ditzy devil diva Lina Lamont. There is nothing funnier than a really beautiful woman playing broad comedy with unabashed honesty. And with echoes of Edith Bunker coming from her mouth, Ingram takes the cake. Kim Morgan Dean as the plucky Kathy Seldon displays a lovely, rich singing voice that wins the ear of movie producers as well as Don’s heart. We enjoy her confidence and spunk as she spars with Don, even though it is clear her destiny is to give him her heart in return. Nick Koesters has remarkable energy as the film director Roscoe Dexter, welding his riding crop like a magic wand on steroids. His struggle to preserve his dignity as he perpetually tangles with recalcitrant actresses and electrical chords proves he is master of the pratfall as well. All are supported in spades by a spectacularly talented ensemble. Top accolades go to each and every one of these highly skilled and hard-working performers.
As the news media constantly pelts us with stories of our turbulent world, take a break to sit in the dark and vicariously live an exciting and colorful story with a happy ending. You’ll walk away wanting to sing – even in the rain.
Singin’ in the Rain runs at Barter Theatre, Abingdon, VA through November 10th. For tickets and information contact 276-628-3991 or www.bartertheatre.com