Los Angeles Theater Preview: SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on July 7, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles


You may know the term “Jukebox Musical” from the ridiculous amount of new Broadway musicals which take previously published songs—most often popular hits that audiences will recognize—and squeeze them into a new libretto. The sad truth is that even the dumbest of books is tolerated for rabid fans of the songs, most often written, or at one time covered, by a popular artist. Think Momma Mia, We Will Rock You, Rock of Ages, Ghost, Bullets Over Broadway; each has librettos so shallow that it makes it tough to just get to the next song.

But sometimes all the theater gods line up and we get Jersey Boys or Crazy for You. And then there is Singin’ in the Rain, one of the original and greatest jukebox musicals of all time. For those who have never seen it on stage (or even if you have), Musical Theatre West is opening a gigantic, water-drenched, Broadway-caliber production this weekend. Directed and choreographed by Jon Engstrom, with musical direction by John Glaudini, Singin’ runs through July 26, 2015. The cast is led by Leigh Wakeford, Natalie Anne MacDonald, Justin Michael Wilcox, Rebecca Ann Johnson, and Jeff Austin.

SinginRain_MeetTheCast_graphic“Stage?” you may ask. For those who don’t know, the 1952 film, which lands on the American Film Institute list as the Greatest Musical on film, is indeed a jukebox screen musical, written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green around pre-existing 20’s and 30’s songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown. With C&G helping, the musical hit the boards in 1982 London, and then had a successful run on Broadway 30 years ago in 1985.

The only two songs original to the film (both of which remain in the stage version) are “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh,” the latter using Cole Porter’s “Be A Clown” as a model (a suggestion made by the film’s director Stanley Donen for a comical solo for Donald O’Connor; the song was used in another Freed musical, The Pirate, made in 1948 and also starring Gene Kelly; Donen described what Freed and Brown came up with as “100% plagiarism”). Also included in the stage version is that famous titular scene (don’t worry about the on-stage rainstorm during our drought—MTG is using recycled water).

2SinginintheRainStageProductionPromotionalImageryThe story: When Monumental Pictures, led by mogul R.F. Simpson (Austin) reluctantly makes a foray into the new “talky” films, they face one problem; their beautiful but spoiled leading lady Lina Lamont (Johnson) has the voice of a constipated chipmunk. If her true voice is exposed on film, then they are all finished in the movie business.

In the meantime, leading man Don Lockwood (Wakeford, pictured to the left) has fallen in love with mysterious jobbing actress Kathy Seldon (MacDonald), who happens to possess a beautiful singing voice. With the help of his loyal, talented composer friend Cosmo (Wilcox), he pursues her relentlessly. Just as she falls in love with him, the studio makes an unfair demand of her in order to bolster the tyrannical and jealous Lina’s career. If you’re wondering whether or not Don and Kathy find happiness in the face of Lina’s scheming, you haven’t seen enough MGM musicals.

The term “jukebox musical” was actually created in the 1940s not long before MGM producer and mastermind Arthur Freed conceived a great story as a vehicle for his catalog of songs from previous MGM musicals. Up until his stint as associate producer on The Wizard of Oz (1939), Freed was writing music for MGM films and knew all too well how popular movies were that used trunk songs. After Wizard, he was promoted to being the head of his own unit within MGM, creating some of the greatest film musicals of all time, beginning with the immensely popular Babes in Arms starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Dozens of great pics, including Oscar-winners An American in Paris (1951) and Gigi (1958), leave a lasting legacy to Freed, but nothing remains as loved and revered as Singin’ in the Rain. And with professional sets and a gigantic cast and orchestra, there won’t be a dry anything in the house.

promo photos courtesy of MTW

Singin’ in the Rain
Musical Theatre West
Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 E. Atherton in Long Beach
July 10-26, 2015
for tickets, call (562) 856-1999 x 4 or visit www.musical.org

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