Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Singin' in the Rain" - Ogunquit Playhouse

Ogunquit Playhouse brings to life “Singin’ in the Rain” with elaborate sets, complex technical effects, and a cast whose energy and talent impress and delight. Ogunquit has a huge show in “Singin’ in The Rain,” and a huge hit.

Joey Sorge, Amanda Lea Lavergne, and Jon Peters seem to almost channel Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor of the original film on which this stage musical is based. The 1952 landmark movie has become so iconic that a stage musical must of necessity evoke memories of the film, and for this production we therefore have the iconic Gene Kelly pose on the street lamp, umbrella in hand, by Joey Sorge, the Donald O’Connor inspired frenetic sight gags during the “Make ‘Em Laugh” number performed by Jon Peters, and Amanda Lea Lavergne’s “All I Do is Dream of You” bursting from a cake a’la Debbie Reynolds.

Particularly impressive for the audience to remember is that Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor were not singing at the top of their lungs while doing those impressive dance routines; they were lip-syncing to playback. On the stage, everything is live (though the tinny sound of the mics is somewhat distracting), and Sorge, Lavergne, and Peters don’t have the luxury of mouthing to playback or re-takes. They give it everything they’ve got, and what they’ve got is great. Their soaring voices and snappy tap dancing may have evoked the actors of the original film, but no mimicry was used or needed. They let us know from the start that, though this show might have been inspired by an old movie, this was live theater in all its immediacy and energy, its ability to excite and involve.

Other moments inspired by the film is the scene of the gossamer scarf of dancer Cyd Charisse enveloping Gene Kelly during the “Broadway Rhythm” number, and it is replicated with an interesting and creative variation. In the “Good Morning” number, at the moment Sorge, Lavergne, and Peters leap in unison onto the back of the couch and tip it over, the audience responded with impromptu applause, because that is one of the most memorable moments of that dance number in the film, and they were delightfully surprised to see it replicated on stage.

Amy Bodnar, who plays the ditzy diva Lina Lamont, rates a special mention for her fabulous performance. One would have to go a long way to top the comic antics of Jean Hagen in the original film, but Ms. Bodnar does it. I think whenever I see the 1952 from now on, I will be reminded with a warm memory of Ms. Bodnar’s performance. She is utterly hysterical in each line, each pose, managing to be both exasperatingly haughty and charmingly endearing. She was singled out for a standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance I saw, and well deserved.

Celia Tackaberry, who doubled as Phoebe Dinsmore the much-put-upon vocal coach, and Dora Bailey, the gossip columnist guiding us through the Hollywood premieres, gave us a touch of zany spoofing.

A fascinating, and highly entertaining aspect to this production is the use of silent film style film sequences of the actors shown on a screen in several scenes that meld with the live action and illustrate the sometimes wacky film world of the late 1920s. This was through the efforts of one of the new sponsors of the Playhouse, Video Creations. We see the difficulty transferring the accustomed silent film story to the new and groundbreaking sound film technology, not always with expected results. The “movie” clips were inventive and really funny.

And of course, it rained on stage.

Boy, did it rain. A spectacular special effect, this must have been a terrific challenge, and audience was taken away by it, and Joey Sorge leaped and splashily tap danced through puddles before our eyes. Bradford T. Kenney, Executive Artistic Director and Jayme McDaniel, director/choreographer are to be congratulated for the triumph “Singin’ in the Rain” represents for Ogunquit Playhouse. Musical director for this show is Matthew Smedal, who led the orchestra through the familiar, and some unfamiliar original numbers by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed.

“Singin’ in the Rain” runs at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Ogunquit, Maine through September 12th. Make every effort to see this show if you can; it’s terrific. If you’re lucky enough to catch it, let us know what you think.

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