The latest ambitious project at the SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre is the stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain,” a show full of singing, dancing, romancing, and goofing around.
The cast at SCERA has big shoes to fill. “Singin’ in the Rain” is widely regarded as one of the best movie musicals of all time, and the film starred Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds — who can live up to any of that?
And yet some of these SCERA performers step right up to the plate and knock one out of the park. Jason Webb, one of the best actors in the valley, takes the Gene Kelly role as Don Lockwood, a silent-movie icon who is supposed to be in love with his co-star, but who actually loves another actress. That actress, Kathy Selden, is played by Melia Erdmann.
Webb and Erdmann have excellent, gorgeous singing voices, and Webb even looks a little like Gene Kelly, especially when he grins, which is usually. Both come across as so likable and genuine, it’s easy to be caught up in their Hollywood love story.
Playing Lockwood’s best friend Cosmo Brown is Jaelan Petrie. Petrie might have the toughest job here: performing the famous “Make ’em Laugh” slapstick sequence originally done so brilliantly by Donald O’Connor. Petrie doesn’t even try to run up the walls like O’Connor did, nor does he try to imitate O’Connor in too many other ways. Instead, he makes the part his own with some truly impressive pratfalls, gymnastics and acrobatic, energetic goofiness. Petrie breathes life into a show that occasionally drags a little.
Also worthy of mention is Jolene Sayers as Lina Lamont, Lockwood’s on-screen love interest who would like to be his off-screen lover too. The joke here — in fact, the basic joke of the whole show — is that Lamont LOOKS great, but has a terrible voice. This doesn’t matter in the Roaring ’20s, when movies don’t talk — but once sound comes in, it becomes a huge problem. Her adoring fans have never heard her speak before, and the studio knows that when they do, they’ll be wanting their money back.
Sayers is terribly funny as Lamont, particularly in the scene where a “talkie” is first attempted. Her intentional lack of dignity makes the character all the more annoying and stupid, and she’s a joy to watch.
Director Syd Riggs — who also did last summer’s major production of “Crazy for You” — achieves almost the same greatness with “Singin’ in the Rain.” There’s some great dancing from the ensemble, and of course good singing. Some pretty solid laughs, too. If there is a flaw with this show, it’s one that’s inherent in the script: Some of the songs range from being merely unmemorable to being downright lame. “Singin’ in the Rain” is a classic, of course, and “Make ’em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes” will stick with you. But beyond that, it’s only been 24 hours, and I can’t recall a single melody from any of the other songs (“You Are My Lucky Star,” “You Were Meant for Me,” etc.). The cast members sing them well enough; they’re just not very good songs, more generic than meaningful. (“Good Morning” is memorable, but only because the tune is maddeningly, irritatingly catchy. In fact, it won’t leave my brain, and I may claw my face off.)
But aside from that, “Singin’ in the Rain” is a gloriously entertaining, fun show. Don’t miss your chance to see community theater at its best.
My family, whose favorite, repeated-viewing movies include "The Music Man" and "Children of the Corn" (and I'm not joking about either of those), took a shining to "Singin' in the Rain" a couple years ago. I wasn't living at home anymore, so I didn't get a chance to experience it with them, but they all went on and on about how good it was. So I was glad to have a chance to see the stage version, and the next night, I rented the movie so I could compare and contrast. (Turns out I had seen clips of the movie in various film classes I'd taken and just not realized that's what I was watching.)
Jason Webb really is one of the more talented local actors we have in Utah County. He sings, dances and acts extremely well, and is a product of the BYU Music/Dance/Theater Department. I'd seen him previously in "Forever Plaid" and Hale Center Theater's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", and was much impressed with his performances there. He's got this huge, gap-toothed grin that's so warm, almost endearing, that it makes you automatically like whatever character he's playing. Good thing he hasn't tried to play any villains, at least not that I've seen, because I suspect he'd be too likable to pull it off. (His wife, Jennifer, is also very talented; she appeared as the Narrator in the aforementioned production of "Joseph." They're quite a couple, those two.)