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STAGE REVIEW : Don’t Grieve for Original Film--Let Nostalgia ‘Rain’

Ten minutes into the Starlight Musical Theatre production of “Singin’ in the Rain,” you really have to wonder about all the angst expressed by those grieving over the transformation of the 1952 MGM movie into a stage musical.

Everything is just fine.

Even playgoers with fond memories of the movie must remember that this isn’t a deep story. Nobody is tampering with Shakespeare here.

You don’t even miss the original movie stars--honest. And it’s not because Kirby Ward as Lockwood, Cynthia Ferrer as Kathy and Joel Blum as Cosmo are the Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds or Donald O’Connor of the ‘90s.

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They are good and likable and work well together. That is all you need in this simple, appealing show.

“Singin’ in the Rain” was just a silly movie about a silent movie star, Don Lockwood, who falls in love with the girl who helps him make his transition into talkies, Kathy Seldon. Instead of a bad guy, there’s a bad woman--the silent movie actress--who tries to stand in their way, Lina Lamont. There’s a best friend/sidekick for the couple whose entire raison d’etre is comic relief, Cosmo Brown.

If it seemed like more than a slight vehicle whipped up by Betty Comden and Adolph Green to use a batch of seemingly unrelated songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, credit the Gene Kelly-Donald O’Connor-Debbie Reynolds trio who mined the most out of several sparkling dance scenes. And what made those dance scenes so magical? The integration of everyday things as dance props--the rain, a table, a couch, a cloth dummy--showed how extraordinary the ordinary can be. To turn those materials into a celebration of life is a triumph of vision, perspective and execution.

Comparisons with the movie are apt to the extent that anyone who comes to “Singin’ in the Rain” will be disappointed to miss Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” O’Connor’s “Make ‘Em Laugh,” the Kelly-O’Connor “Moses Supposes” number, and the Reynolds-Kelly-O’Connor song, “Good Mornin’.”

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But deliver those scenes and there’s no reason you can’t enjoy the stage version for being exactly what it is--a smile and a dance step, long on charm and short on intellectual depth.

Starlight delivers. And for once--given the flowing, cinematic style of the scenes, nicely staged by Don and Bonnie Ward with deft musical segues by musical director-conductor Lloyd Cooper--it’s actually more amusing than trying when the company freezes when airplanes roar overheard. It’s as if an unseen “projector"--also known as the force of nature--stopped the action for a moment.

For all you worriers out there, the all-important rain does come down on stage--even if the company hasn’t yet found a way to hide the sprinkler heads from which the rain “pours.” The movie segments, which the company didn’t get in their hands until Monday, work even though Barbara Du Bois’ lighting can’t seem to compensate for the brightness of the 8 p.m. sky washing out the color for the first short film. She does better later.

Kirby Ward and Ferrer, repeating the same roles from the recent San Bernardino Civic Light Opera Company production, radiate warmth and ease with each other. Blum executes the pratfalls and tumblings with flair.

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Deborah Carlson steals the show regularly with Lina Lamont’s tittering Brooklynese. She sparkles in Tara’s final costume for her: a silver foil, cotton candy affair. It’s the best outfit by far, matched only by the blindingly bright kaleidoscope of jellybean colors designed for the “Broadway Melody” ensemble number.

In the supporting cast, Darryl Ferrera fares best as the exasperated director, Charles Jackam as the diction teacher and Judy Milstein as the gossip columnist. The two young boys who play young Cosmo and young Don, Jason Russel and Nathan Bush, are adorable hoofers-in-training.

The major casting snafu is Gordon Benson, who just doesn’t cut it as the head of a studio.

It would be surprising if there weren’t technical problems in this technically demanding show, most of which will probably be ironed out over the course of the run. There was the fan that didn’t start on cue, the Broadway sign that didn’t light up, the rain for the ensemble number that seemed to come down at an arbitrary moment, rather than on cue (although there is the possibility the cue may have been arbitrarily chosen).

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And then there are the usual problems with uneven miking--the more amusing since there is a big number in the show making fun of the miking for Lockwood and Lamont’s first talking picture.

Ken Holamon’s sets are chiefly remarkable for getting the job of swift and multiple scene changes done in a theater that lacks a fly loft, rather than being terribly attractive in and of themselves.

Still the show works on its own terms as a ‘new’ 1950s musical. Want some hummable tunes, pretty outfits and high-stepping dance numbers? Sit back and let the nostalgia reign.

“SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN”

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Adaptation and screenplay of original MGM film by Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Original choreography by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Choreographed and directed for Starlight by Bonnie and Don Ward. Music director-conductor is Lloyd Cooper. Sets by Ken Holamon. Costumes by Tara. Lighting by Barbara Du Bois. Sound design by Bill Lewis. Technical direction by Larry Kane. Stage manager is Brett Finley. With Kirby Ward, Cynthia Ferrer, Joel Blum, Deborah Carlson, Darryl Ferrera, Gordon Benson, Judy Milstein, Myche Owens, Jennifer Fulton, Charles Jackam, Jennifer Jeffries, Jason Russel, Nathan Bush, Jon Wilcox, Ruff Yeager, Joshua Fischel and Jerry Eiting. At 8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday through July 15. Tickets are $13-24. At the Starlight Bowl, Balboa Park, (619) 544-STAR.


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