Singin’ in the Rain could be tough to transition from screen to stage precisely because it’s so wrapped up in cinema history. Not only is it widely regarded as one of the best movie musicals of all time (at least by the American Film Institute), it’s all about the inner workings of 1920s Hollywood. The story takes place just as “talking pictures” arrive on the scene, and one studio has to figure out how to adapt to the new technology. Perhaps its close tie to the screen is why a stage adaptation didn’t make it to Broadway until 1985, 33 years after the movie’s release.
While Singin’ in the Rain is mainly about making movies, at its heart it’s really about figuring out how to entertain people. Turns out, it’s easy: Get good performers to sing short and upbeat songs, mix in a few spectacle-filled dance numbers, and maybe throw in a few showy tricks here and there. And that’s exactly what the Westchester Broadway Theatre does with its production of Singin’ in the Rain.
The plot is light: Silent-film star Don Lockwood (Jeremy Benton) tries to figure out how to save his movie when the studio demands it become an “all-talking picture” (despite the fact that the leading lady has a voice that sounds like a higher-pitched Fran Drescher). At the same time, he has to balance out managing the ego of his co-star, Lina Lamont (Allie Schauer) — rumored in the press to be his off-screen love as well, since this was in the pre-entertainment-blog days — and his budding romance with a new ingénue, Kathy Selden (Shannon M. O’Bryan).
While you feel for all of them (yes, even the shrill Lina Lamont, who probably won’t get the credit she deserves for performing a solo number in that uniquely pitched voice of hers), you’re not dealing with life-or-death scenarios or heavy allegories — which is a good thing. It’s all just there for your entertainment.
The stage musical hews extremely close to the film, with a couple of extra songs and reprises added here or there for good measure. The musical numbers are mostly there for their own sake, and aren’t necessary to further the plot (again, this isn’t a bad thing). Since they don’t really have to do a lot of the story’s heavy lifting, they come fast and often: “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make ’Em Laugh,” “You Are My Lucky Star,” “Moses Supposes,” “Good Mornin’,” and “Singin’ in the Rain” all come in the first act.
Lots of those songs also accompany great dance numbers. It seems that Shannon M. O’Bryan — who has a certain Amy Adams-ish quality to her — is the theater’s go-to gal for tap dancing, since she recently starred in its production of 42nd Street. As with that show, she’s still a pleasure to watch. But Jeremy Benton and Cody Williams, who plays Cosmo Brown, take on the majority of the tap dancing, and the show really heats up when they get going.
That’s the show’s best asset: It doesn’t try to do too much. Snappy patter and a couple of dramatic scenes do what they have to in setting up the musical numbers, then the show gets out of the way to let the performers do their thing — and make ’em laugh.
Singin’ in the Rain will be at the Westchester Broadway Theatre through June 12.