Arts & Culture

'Singin' in the Rain' recreates movie magic on SLO stage

Silent film star Don Lockwood (Jeff Salsbury) is seduced by a mystery woman (Nicole Holst) in "Singin' in the Rain," now playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
Silent film star Don Lockwood (Jeff Salsbury) is seduced by a mystery woman (Nicole Holst) in "Singin' in the Rain," now playing at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.

The beloved movie musical “Singin’ in the Rain” has been re-imagined as a stage show, now playing at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre. It was directed by Kevin Harris with musical direction by Lacey McNamara.

The stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain,” which premiered on Broadway in 1985, features the same celebrated songs, famous dance routines, and romantic comedy plot as the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie of the same title starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds.

Like the film, it was written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and features music by Nacio Herb Brown and lyrics by Arthur Freed.

The story opens in Hollywood in 1927. Popular silent picture stars Don Lockwood (Jeff Salsbury) and Lina Lamont (Melanie Portney) are celebrating the opening of their latest movie.

Lina, confused by what is described in the tabloids as real love, falsely believes that she is going to marry Don. But he doesn’t share her feelings.

Frustrated with his shallow co-star, Don escapes the premiere and meets Kathy Selden (Kerry DiMaggio), who is not impressed with his celebrity. Instantly smitten, Don is reunited with Kathy at a Hollywood party where he discovers that she is a chorus girl.

Meanwhile, silent pictures are rapidly being replaced by talkies following the success of the first “talking picture,” “The Jazz Singer.” Monumental Pictures studio head R.F. Simpson (well-played by Ed Cardoza) decided to convert Don and Lina’s upcoming silent movie “The Dueling Cavalier” to sound. This is challenging due to Lina’s chipmunk-like voice.

Together with his childhood friend and musical partner, Cosmo Brown (Zach Johnson, who is also the show’s choreographer), Don devises a scheme to use Kathy as Lina’s on-screen voice. The tension mounts as Lina becomes jealous of Kathy and tries to thwart any recognition for the aspiring actress.

Other memorable characters in “Singin’ in the Rain” include movie director Roscoe Dexter (F. Bogart Wolf), Lina’s friend Zelda (Tara Brinkman), publicity department head Rod (Larry Kaml), radio host Dora Bailey (Kristin Saunders), and diction coach Miss Dinsmore (Valerie Pallai) and her colleague (John Mackey).

As Don Lockwood, Salsbury carries the show with a natural talent that flows easily between singing, dancing and acting. He and Johnson wonderfully replicate many of the movie’s iconic and challenging showstoppers such as “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make ’Em Laugh” and “Moses Supposes.”

Portney is perfect as Lina — channeling Jean Hagen, who earned an Oscar nomination for playing the silent film star in the movie version of “Singin’ in the Rain.”

It is hard to imagine adapting this legendary film to the stage with such challenges as location switches, complex costume changes and the need for an onstage rainstorm. However, the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre production smoothly accomplishes this difficult task under the leadership of stage manager Pam Hester.

David Linfield’s minimal stage design allows plenty of room for the ensemble musical numbers and props needed for scene changes. Screens in the theater show black-and-white video clips of Don and Lina in their silent and talking pictures; the videos, designed by Ryan C. Loyd, are a clever idea.

Costumes by Keith Wetzel capture the Roaring Twenties with great style and color.

“Singin’ in the Rain” is a delightful, zany and fun-loving musical for audience members of any age.

Be ready to leave the theater with a song in your heart and a dance in your step. Umbrellas not required.

“Singin’ in the Rain”

7 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through March 15

San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo

$35

805-786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org

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