When famous silent movie star Don Lockwood (Nicolas Dromard) falls for aspiring young actress-singer-dancer Kathy Selden (Kate Fahrner), it’s a potential publicity problem: Don is already advertised as romantically with his co-star Lina Lamont (Kim Sava), a catty diva who doesn’t like to be upstaged. And more trouble comes when a rival studio overshadows them by premiering the first talkie. It will take ingenuity, can-do-it-ness, and movie magic to make all the good guys come out on top, in the studio-lot romance of Singin’ in the Rain. Adapted from the classic movie about movie people, it closes out the 60th season Maine State Music Theatre, in a lavish production directed and choreographed by Marc Robin.
This being 1920s Tinseltown, the show opens with a sartorially luxurious red-carpet walk, narrated by Hollywood reporter Dora Bailey (Charis Leos, pitch-perfect as always), as a parade of celebrities in gold gowns and daring headpieces vogues for the masses. Finally, out struts Don, in a white suit and trench, and Lina, in a dizzily elaborate mermaid dress with frothy train.
Even out of the lime-light, Lina always looks screen-ready; statuesque and sumptuously garbed, her platinum curls tightly coiffed, she looks like a cross of Laura Dern and Marie Antoinette. Her glamour makes all the more comic the moment she first opens her mouth and speaks with her crass New York squeak; Lina is deftly performed by Sava with impeccable physical poise and a consummately grating high-pitched whine.
Fahrner’s Kathy, in contrast (and in dresses of a more practical, girl-next-door prettiness), has a smooth, dulcet voice and a manner that’s generous, forthright, and wholesomely mischievous. When she first meets cute with Don, breezily self-confident in Dromard’s hands, you love her for how unimpressed she is with his bluster. Later, you feel pained for her when, hired to jump out of a cake at a studio party, she grits her teeth against Don’s teasing and keeps smiling through the demeaning chorus-girl routine. That’s character, and Fahrner’s Kathy is easy to root for.
A delightful third-wheel to their romance is Cosmo Brown (Brian Shepard), Don’s former vaudeville partner. Shepard’s Cosmo is a blithe and playful physical comedian, especially in the classic “Make ‘Em Laugh”; he also teams up with Don and a diction coach (the terrific Buddy Reeder) for the electric elocution-lesson tap-dancing of “Moses Supposes.” And Cosmo, Don, and Kathy banter with great rapport and super dancing in another famous number, “Good Mornin’,” tapping and tumbling over upturned couches after they’ve been up all night plotting to save the picture.
Set during a time when film is on the cusp of talkies but still within the lifetime of vaudeville, Singin’ in the Rain as a stage play is interestingly positioned as homage across its performance mediums: We get flashbacks to Don and Cosmo’s vaudeville acts roughhousing with fiddles, and we also get screenings of both silent and talkie films, projected on one of MSMT’s three large video panels. I’m not sure we really need to watch animated eighth notes twirl on these screens during musical overtures, but it’s a real hoot to watch Don and Lina’s movies (filmed at Victoria Mansion and Searles Castle, and produced by WGME) actually screen up there in jumpy black and white, or to hear, in the studio’s first, disastrous talkie, how Lina’s squeak is drowned out by the clicking of her pearls.
What Don, Kathy, and Cosmo concoct to save the picture from Lina’s ineptitude at sounds becomes a striking homage to the sorcery of production design. Glissandos and trills in the score simulate the thrill of a suddenly audible soundtrack, while women glitter in unicorn horns, emerald-green dragon wings, and orange showgirl plumes. When Don spins Kathy in her gleaming, fur-trimmed white, her gown is so white-white, and under such bright-white lights, that it almost burns the eyes.
And, of course, we also get some singing in the rain, which MSMT and a very game Dromard make impressively, splashily literal. At heart, Singin’ in the Rain is a love letter to the magic of show biz, and this title scene is one of many, at MSMT, that brims with it.
Singin’ in the Rain | Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green; Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Directed and choreographed by Marc Robin | Maine State Music Theatre, Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd, Brunswick | Through August 25 | Thu 2 & 7:30 pm; Fri 7:30 pm; Sat 2 & 7:30 pm; Sun 2 pm; Tue-Thu 2 & 7:30 pm | www.msmt.org