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THEATER | STAGE REVIEW

'Singin' ' Too Staged

Despite some bright spots, the Yorba Linda show suffers for hewing too closely to the movie.

October 01, 1998|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

How one group--in this case, Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera--can have such a sure handle on one show ("How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," earlier this year) and fumble another ("Singin' in the Rain," currently) is one of theater life's little mysteries.

But it happens, and it's just sad that it's happening with a stage version of what many (including this writer) consider the most remarkable movie musical ever made.

Actually, that may be one of the problems: The risky idea of transferring the brilliant Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly film to the boards didn't really pay off when original screenwriters Betty Comden and Adolph Green did it in 1985.

The general reaction, then as now, is that watching the stage version only makes one yearn for the movie version that much more.

How do you possibly re-create Kelly's signature puddle-kicking solo number on the rainy nighttime streets, or Donald O'Connor's mind-boggling solo, "Make 'Em Laugh"?

Because the Comden-Green book stays almost 100% faithful to the film narrative and song selections, there's the security for any company reviving the show that this is a solid work on paper. But there's also the danger that the cast--especially those playing star Don Lockwood, sidekick Cosmo Brown and bright ingenue Kathy Seldon--will be reduced to re-creating performances enshrined in Hollywood legend.

"The Wiz," warts and all, avoided these Hollywood classic-to-stage pitfalls by turning "The Wizard of Oz" into a Motown romp. This "Singin' in the Rain" is very much the movie, often awkwardly, put on stage.

Depending on a number of painted scenery curtains (care of Mitch Gill and the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre), director William Gekas tries to make the many scene changes as swift as possible--but instead, they get slower as the show goes on (at least they did last Saturday night).

Part of what makes the movie a cinematic wonder is its magical, whimsical sense of scene transition and using the movie medium itself as a device. Gekas finds no theatrical equivalent to this, and it grinds down the show's pace.

More damaging, though, is George W. Snodgrass' performance as Don, the Kelly role. Painfully trying to match Kelly's matchless grin and smooth manner, Snodgrass makes every move look calculated and nearly robotic.

Next to the true comic talent of Kyle Myers as Cosmo (the O'Connor role), the friendly ease of Christi Kline as Kathy (Debbie Reynolds' star-making role) and Sherry Fleming's flinty, funny take as self-obsessed star Lina Lamont, Snodgrass is out of place and often out of tune.

He's not helped by a physically limited production that delivers rain on cue (for the title number) but not the puddles Don is supposed to kick around. Either Gekas or choreographer Melanie Jacobson have the bad idea of having Snodgrass kick them around anyway.

The show is plagued by such poor judgment calls, but there are at least the bright spots: Myers' rollicking "Make 'Em Laugh," the potent-voiced Jason Wood as Roscoe, the beleaguered studio director trying to convert to the sound era, and Myers leading the way on the ever clever "Moses Supposes."

In a side note, this song--and several others--aren't listed in the confusing, unhelpful program, which even incorrectly designates the intermission.

Some shows you get right, others you don't. . . .

BE THERE

"Singin' in the Rain," Yorba Linda Civic Light Opera Forum Theatre, 4175 Fairmont Blvd., Yorba Linda. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. $10-$18. Extended through Oct. 11. (714) 779-1932. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.

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