“Lina. She can’t act, she can’t sing, she can’t dance. A triple threat.”

Yesterday afternoon (I would have written this last night, but a headache intervened) we went out to Thousand Oaks to see “Singin’ In The Rain” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. This is the stage version of the theatrical musical “Singin’ in the Rain”. This musical, with book by Betty Comden & Adolph Green, and songs by Nacio Herb Brown & Arthur Freed, is pretty much the 1952 movie on stage. Although the movie is described as one of the best musicals ever made, topping the AFI’s 100 Years of Musicals list, and ranking fifth in its updated list of the greatest American films in 2007, as a stage musical… it creaks. By this I mean that it doesn’t fit the concept of modern musical, where modern refers to the post-“Oklahoma” musicals. Although the story is reasonable for what it is, the songs rarely serve to move the story forward or to illustrate the inner emotions of the characters (with the notable exception of the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain” and Cosmo’s signature number, “Make ‘Em Laugh”). Instead, most of the songs are more novelty songs, inserted in the action to highlight the singing and dancing talents of the cast. This is not a fault of Cabrillo but of Brown & Freed, and the problem dates back to the original movie. It may come from the fact that many of these songs were reused, having been written originally for movies in the 1920s and 1930s. I hazard a guess that if this were to appear today as a new musical on Broadway, the book and lyrics would be faulted for being horribly out of date.

So what is the story. Well, it’s a common one of the late 1920s. The stock market crashes, everyone is turned out on the street, and is forced to busker during downpours in order to make a living. No, wait, that’s what’s happening today. This is another story common in the late 1920s. Don Lockwood (David Engel) is one of Monumental Picture’s leading stars. Together with his leading lady (and rumored fiancee) Lina Lamont (Melissa Fahn), they are attending the successful opening of their most recent silent swashbuckler. Walking home, Don runs into Kathy Selden (Shanon Mari Mills) who appears not to be a fawning fan, and thus Don is attracted to her. When later Don runs into her at a party, she gets upset at him and throws a pie at him… missing him, but hitting Lena. Lena gets her fired, and Don is now searching to find his love. Don also has bigger problems: “The Jazz Singer” has hit the street, and everyone is demanding talkies…. but have you heard Lena’s voice? Nails on a chalkboard. Like many actors, she just isn’t right for the talkies, and as a result, the new picture, “The Dueling Cavalier”, is going to flop. Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (Randy Rogel) comes up with the solution: turn it into a musical. But just as Lena can’t talk, she can’t sing or dance. Cosmo’s solution: dub her voice (no, this isn’t “Looped”)… and the actress doing the dubbing… Kathy Seldon. The results from there are predictable.

So, given this lightweight material, the well-known (and well-loved) songs, and the heavy dance influence of the movie (a Gene Kelly special), how did Cabrillo do? Very well. David Engelæ (playing Don Lockwood) is a consummate song and dance man–he channels Kelly and does the dancing numbers with ease and grace, and was a delight to watch. He also served as choreographer, and enticed the entire cast to dance up a storm. His cohort, Randy Rogelæ (playing Cosmo Brown) equally channels Donald O’Conner: he sings, he dances, and he has excellent physical comic timing. Shanon Mari Mills (playing Kathy Selden), who we’ve seen previously in “Mask” and “They’re Playing Our Song”, is a delightful ingénue, a superb singer and a strong dancer. Lastly, Melissa Fahnæ (playing Lena Lamont) is wonderfully comic and has the voice down pat (although the particular role doesn’t allow us to hear her real voice). So the production was well cast, well sung, and well danced.

The remaining cast members were strong in their roles, although not as standout as the leads. These members were: Gary Gordon (R. F. Simpson, owner of Monumental Pictures), Rita Tarin (Dora Bailey), Terry Fishman (Roscoe Dexter), Gene Bernath (Diction Teacher), Farley Cadena (Miss Dinsmore), Linda Neel (the Girl in the Green Dress, a dance role made famous by Cyd Charisse), Rocky Lynch (Young Don), Jacob Tobias (Young Cosmo), Ann Myers (Zelda Zanders, friend of Lena), Chris Ramirez (Rod), and Richard Storrs (Sid Phillips). Other members of the ensemble were Neal Bakke, Chris Acuff, Kasey Alfonso, Layne Baker, Christopher Bray, Cory Bretsch, Amanda Brown, Drew D’Andrea, Jasmine Ejan, Jennifer Foster, Brandon Heitkamp, Erik Kline, Holly Long, Lindsay McDonald, Carly Pippin, Jonalyn Saxer, Deborah Shulman, Marni Zaifert, Delany Miner, Riley Miner, and Sami Staitman.
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

Technically, the production stretched the Cabrillo resources, with a number of extremely large set pieces that had to be moved in and out, including a full-sized unit that permitted the titular song to be performed in actual rain. These pieces also required a few numbers to be performed in front of a backdrop so that the scenery could be changed beind the scenes. The scenery overall worked well, although it surely gave our favorite production stage manager, youarebonfante, lots of work to do coordinating everything. The production was directed by Larry Rabenæ. Lighting design was by Jean-Yves Tessier and was a bit spot heavy, but otherwise good. Sound design was by Jonathan Burke, who got the wonderful job of designing a sound system that could work under water. Wardrobe supervision was by Christine Gibson, with hair and wig design by Karen Zanki. The sets were provided by 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle Washington and were designed by Michael Anania. The production manager and prop designer was T. Theresa Scarano. The Production Stage Manager was the ever capable™ Lindsay Martensæ (who we thank for meeting us afterwards, and we hope to meet again) assisted by Rachel Samuels. Musical direction was by Alby Potts, who conducted the excellent 17-member orchestra. CMT is under the artistic direction of Lewis Wilkenfeld.

Cabrillo has announced their 2008-2009 season, and the first production of the 2009-2010 season. The 2008-2009 season will be “The King and I” (October 17-26, 2008); “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” [The Neal Sedaka Musical] (January 9-18, 2009); “42nd Street” (March 27-April 5 2009); and “Cats” (July 24-August 2 2009). The first production of the 2009-2010 season will be “Dreamgirls” in October 2009.

So what’s upcoming on our theatre calendar? Our last play ticketed for August is “Assassins” at West Coast Ensemble (Sun 8/10 @ 2pm). In September we’ll be seeing “Vanitites” at the Pasadena Playhouse, and I hope to ticket “9 to 5” at the Ahmanson (HotTix go on sale in August). September will also bring “Of Mice and Men” at Repertory East on a date to be determined. October will bring “The King and I” at Cabrillo Music Theatre.