Just in time for a much-needed rainy season on the Peninsula, Broadway by the Bay is concluding its 2017 program with a revival of the beloved musical "Singin' in the Rain." This is the stage adaptation of the classic film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, which some consider the greatest movie musical ever made.
"Singin' in the Rain" offers a light-hearted satirical look at a key time in the motion-picture industry: the shift from silent films to "talkies." In 1927, Don Lockwood (the Gene Kelly character, played in the Broadway by the Bay version by Ryan Blanning), is a debonair screen star with vaudeville song-and-dance-man roots. His on-screen partner and paramour is the glamorous Lina Lamont (Jen Brooks), a vain and conniving vamp whom he loathes in real life. The two are the toast of Hollywood, but when their studio decides it needs to keep up with the competition by delving into "talking pictures," the pair have a problem. Lina, it turns out, bears a most unpleasant voice and manner, can't sing or dance, and is seemingly incapable of elocution improvement, making her unsuitable for the new world of talkies. Test audiences greet their new movie, "The Dueling Cavalier," with ridicule. Enter Kathy Selden (Amanda Farbstein), the ingenue with a golden voice who harbors Broadway dreams, and Lockwood's new crush. Don and his best pal and former dance partner Cosmo (Randy O'Hara), who works in the studio's music department, hatch a scheme to save their latest film from disaster. If Kathy can overdub Lina's lines and songs, they might just get away with transforming "The Dueling Cavalier" into a musical comedy, "The Dancing Cavalier," and save their careers. But will Kathy ever get her moment in the spotlight?
It's fairly startling to realize that the 1952 film looking back at the "olden days" came out just 25 years after the events it depicts (so, like looking back to 1992 from today). Regardless of its age, the story and numbers are still fizzy and funny, and still delightful to modern audiences. Though it it was originally made as a self-referential movie celebrating and poking fun at its own Hollywood world, "Singin' in the Rain" lends itself quite well to the stage. Broadway by the Bay's home base, the beautiful Fox Theatre in downtown Redwood City is actually the perfect spot for it, as it was originally built in 1929 as a motion-picture house and still retains much of the look of a grand 1920s movie palace. This production (directed by Alex Perez) does an excellent job with its movie segments (produced by Tracy Martin), projecting fantastic-looking clips of Don and Lina's black-and-white films on the screen. I was also amazed by the production value of the title sequence, with real rain pouring down on the stage, and the costumes, by Leandra Watson, are divine.
The choreography, by Robyn Tribuzi, a throwback to the classic age of Broadway (and Hollywood) musicals, is crowd-pleasing. This is a show that by its nature requires a large amount of high-energy dance (much of it tap, which is the best kind of dancing, in my opinion), and the ensemble is put to good use throughout. Blanning and O'Hara put forth their best effort, but the uber-charismatic Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor (the film's Cosmo) have, after all, pretty impossible dancing shoes to fill. Brooks has a ball in the standout role of Lina, which is probably the most fun character in the show to play (and, to be honest, more compelling to watch than goody-two-shoes Kathy, although Farbstein is suitably winsome).
Some of the songs (by Betty Comden and Adolph Green) in "Singin' in the Rain," the title song included, were plucked from older musicals and movies, and thus bear only the thinnest tie to the plot, if at all. But it's all such good fun that it doesn't matter much, as old-timers and younger folk alike will get a kick out of hearing and seeing faithfully recreated numbers such as "Fit as a Fiddle," "Good Morning" and "You Are My Lucky Star." It's easy to see the show's influence on throwback homages, such as last year's movie musical "La La Land."
Take advantage of the beautiful Fox Theatre setting, come in the from the cold, and escape for a few hours into a glitzy golden age. And if it's raining when you come out, feel free to kick up your heels and take a celebratory spin around a lamp post for good measure. It just feels good.
What: "Singin' in the Rain."
Where: Fox Theatre, 2215 Broadway St., Redwood City
When: Weekends through Nov. 19.
Info: Go to BBB.