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Review: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ gets splash-happy in La Mirada

Review: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ gets splash-happy in La Mirada
An-n-nd ... they tip the couch. Michael Starr, left, as Don Lockwood, Kimberly Immanuel as Kathy Selden and Brandon Burks as Cosmo Brown in "Singin' in the Rain" at La Mirada Theatre. (Austin Bauman)

Squeaks of anticipation greet the opening strains of familiar songs at a local revival of the stage musical “Singin’ in the Rain,” adapted from the 1952 MGM movie that keeps Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor dancing forever in our memories.

“Make ’Em Laugh.” “Moses Supposes.” “Good Morning.” The nostalgia factor runs high for the McCoy Rigby Entertainment and La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts production performed last weekend at the Soraya in Northridge before settling this week into La Mirada. But there’s also fresh energy coursing through this polished presentation, due largely to the choreographic skill of Spencer Liff, a dance creator for Fox TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and for such Broadway shows as “Falsettos” (now at the Ahmanson) and the Deaf West revival of “Spring Awakening.”

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Liff, who is also the production’s director, evokes the styles and well-remembered gestures of Kelly and Stanley Donen’s originals (the “Good Morning” couch tip, the “Singin’ in the Rain” lamppost pose) while giddily incorporating other notions, including drop splits that yo-yo back up; backward leaping tap-dance spins; tabletop time steps; and a ballet barre used as both liftoff site and pommel horse.

Days before the opening, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle honored McCoy Rigby and La Mirada Theatre with a special award for their career output of musical theater.

Here, the producers chose a real bear of a show, technically as well as artistically. They’ve met every challenge.

Except one. They haven’t answered: Why? — a question that has always hung over this show, whether in London in 1983, New York in ’85 or anywhere since. Widely considered the best-ever movie musical, “Singin’ in the Rain” is perfect on film. So even the best stage presentation of it is, at best, a remarkable act of mimicry.

Set in Hollywood during the late 1920s as movies transitioned from silent to sound, “Singin’ in the Rain” zips through locales, from premieres at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre to locations on a studio lot — and, of course, a rainy street. The rain technology is rented. For everything else, set designer John Iacovelli delivers what looks and functions much like an Old Hollywood soundstage. Shon LeBlanc’s colorful ’20s-style costumes and Steven Young’s rich lighting lend a Technicolor sheen.

Further scene-setting is provided by projections that paint details — like the old Hollywoodland sign — onto the stage, and when clips from the central characters’ swashbuckling romances are called for, the films flicker to life in wonderfully vintage-looking black-and-white, all courtesy of designer David Murakami.

Michael Starr's lovesick matinee idol doesn't care if he gets soaked.
Michael Starr's lovesick matinee idol doesn't care if he gets soaked. (Austin Bauman)

The story is by the ace duo of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. They were tapped to come up with a plot that would make use of MGM’s back catalog of songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. The stage adaptation, also by Comden and Green, leaves the script and song selections largely intact.

So once again we find ourselves dropped amid the delightful high jinks of matinee idol Don Lockwood; his screechy-voiced costar, Lina Lamont, who believes their onscreen romance is real; the bright young star-in-the-making Kathy Selden, whom Don truly falls for; and Don’s goof of a pal, the musician Cosmo Brown.

Ably handling the Lockwood role is Michael Starr, a rising talent who’s been popping up everywhere, including Reprise’s “The World Goes ‘Round” and La Mirada’s “1776.” As Selden, Kimberly Immanuel contributes a winning soprano and a fun-loving spirit. Sara King, playing Lamont, keeps the audience giggling with her piercing voice (“and I caaan’t stan’ ’im”) but also makes clear that she’s no dim-bulb pushover. Portraying Brown, Brandon Burks handles the jokey face-making, pose-striking duties well, and ever-reliable Peter Van Norden amiably smooths the sharp edges of studio chief R.F. Simpson. A 16-musician orchestra is led by Keith Harrison.

Even if all of this is but a shadow of the film, it keeps its audience happy, especially when a certain lovesick matinee star leaves his sweetheart’s door in the pouring rain and couldn’t care less if he gets soaked as he goes spinning, skipping and splashing home.

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‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Where: La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd.

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When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; ends May 12

Tickets: $14-$94

Info: (562) 944-9801, lamiradatheatre.com

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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