What can a stage production of “Singin’ in the Rain” deliver that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s cinematic masterpiece didn’t? Directed by Marcos Santana with kinetic charm, this safe but crowd-pleasing revival answers that question with the live showmanship of Tischler and the rest of its triple-threat stars.
As silent-film icon Don Lockwood, Rhett Guter smoothly tap-dances his way through an imposing set of numbers, all with the throwback charisma that the 1920s-set musical requires. He also proves to be a capable straight man opposite Tischler’s zany best pal Cosmo and finds an easy romantic chemistry with Amanda Castro’s budding ingenue Kathy Selden, whose peppiness is best used in the vibrant earworm “Good Mornin’.”
Farrell Parker is appropriately grating as Lina Lamont, Don’s recurring leading lady with an outsize ego and ear-piercing voice. The bit parts are smartly cast as well: Ashleigh King gives her red-carpet reporter a delightfully demanding thirst for gossip; Max P. Fowler wows as both a young Don and the crooner who sings “Beautiful Girls”; and Michael Wood rolls his R’s with gusto as the diction coach tasked with helping Don and Lina transition to talkies.
The sprawling cast is useful during the set changes, as the actors nimbly transform the central location of a gold-tinged soundstage into a variety of locales, vividly realized by scenic designer Dan Conway. Rosemary Pardee’s lush costumes further conjure the Golden Age of Hollywood. In a meta-theatrical flourish, Santana cleverly frames this “Singin’ in the Rain” as a movie musical within a stage musical, with interludes that pull back the curtain and depict a camera crew silently capturing each scene. Grady McLeod Bowman’s choreography similarly honors the film while shuffling in intriguing new directions, particularly during the hypnotic dream ballet “Broadway Melody.”
For the most part, though, this staging opts to channel the movie’s appealing ambiance. Considering the draw of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s spine-tingling music and Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s eternally funny script, it’s hard to fault that choice. That said, the gender politics of “Singin’ in the Rain” could have used a touch-up. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Don’s first flirtations with Kathy play more cringey than alluring, considering he’s a Hollywood figure with the power to make or break an unknown actress’s career.
Otherwise, the narrative — originally replicated from the 1952 film for a 1983 West End premiere — holds up. And one can only marvel at the ambition when water comes pouring from the rafters for the title tune. Guter splashes around the stage with glee (maybe bring a poncho if you’re in the front row), even if the orchestration and patter of raindrops did threaten to wash out his lyrics on opening night.
Such hiccups can happen with technically challenging productions, and the first performance also included an apparent prop malfunction when a piece of Cosmo’s piano stool snapped off. Tischler, in true vaudevillian fashion, deftly turned that miscue into a laugh-out-loud improvisation. “Singin’ in the Rain” may be an age-old tune, but this cast finds new ways to make ’em laugh.
Singin’ in the Rain, Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed. Directed by Marcos Santana. Set, Dan Conway; costumes, Rosemary Pardee; lighting, Andrew F. Griffin; sound, Roc Lee; wigs, Anne Nesmith; music direction, Angie Benson; choreography, Grady McLeod Bowman. With Michael Russotto and Chris Genebach. About 2 hours 15 minutes. $42-$94. Through Jan. 5 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd., Olney. 301-924-3400 or olneytheatre.org.