Leave it to Nashville’s own theatre God, esteemed reviewer and equally accomplished director, Jef Ellis to produce the cherished musical monsoon that is Singin’ in the Rain during one of the Mid-State area’s most significant rainy seasons to date. Talk about creating a mood!
To that end, Ellis has assembled a show not only soaked with beloved tunes from the source material’s original movie 1952 musical movie, but he’s showered it with some truly talented players.
As is often the case, I count the Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor film among my favorites…I have a lot of favorites, so sue me. Imagine my delight when I heard that Ellis would be mounting the show, knowing that he and I share a love of all things Old Hollywood. With that in mind, I knew his production of Singin’ in the Rain, in spite of the bit of a road trip it takes to get from Nashville to nearby Woodbury, home of the Arts Center of Cannon County would be nothing short of a deluge of musical theatre magic. Trust me…it’s worth the drive.
Being my first time to see a show in Woodbury, upon entering ACCC, I was immediately impressed by the venue. There’s a roomy lobby, filled to capacity the night I attended the show, as well as an on-site shop filled with gift options, homemade treats and beverage choices. Once inside the theatre, Ellis’ touches as brought to life by set designer, Shane Lowery, were immediately on display, the backdrop of the set featuring Ellis’ beloved pooch, Jessie in a version of an Old Hollywood studio logo, complete with adorable mascot…think MGM’s Leo, but with more bark, less bite. The logo, framed by a decidedly art deco black and silver structure on either side, giving clue to the story’s late 20s early 30s timeframe. Even the stage floor features another carefully devised wink to Tinseltown, replicating the famed cement encased foot- and handprints of film and stage legends of the era. I regret I didn’t take the time to get a closer look at this detail during the show’s intermission, but I digress.
As the action starts, there’s further mood set as screens located on either side of the stage flicker with the glow of projected images at an old-time movie revealing the ‘opening credits’ of the play. This clever bit of tech is utilized a few more times throughout the show as we see our stars in their last silent movie and their first talkie.
For his take on the classic movie-turned-musical (a rarity when it debuted in this form in the late 80s, but a more common practice these days), Ellis has cast Austin Jeffrey Smith as Don Lockwood, the role made famous by Gene Kelly in the film. Having appeared in more than half-a-dozen plays under Ellis’ direction, Smith has obviously developed a blissful synergy with the director and is the perfect conduit to physically manifest Ellis’ concepts. Of course it doesn’t hurt that Smith, with every role he takes on, whether under Ellis tutelage or not, hones his craft as one of Nashville’s here to stay triple threats. As expected, Smith’s highlights come with the show’s most famous tunes, Good Morning and the titular torrential tap-dance that is Singin’ in the Rain. Yes. Yes, it does indeed rain on stage ! Kudos to choreographer, Maggie Richardson, as well as each and every member of the technical crew for pulling this sequence off in such a lovely, successful manner.
Alongside Smith’s Lockwood, theres Lindsey Mapes Duggan as Kathy Selden. While Duggan was new to me, she’s known in Cannon County, as evidenced by thunderous applause each time she appeared on stage, and rightly so. As I mentioned to her when I interviewed Duggan and her fellow cast mates for my Singin’ In the Rain Rapid Fire 20 Q prior to the show’s opening weekend, among my prized possessions is a personalized autographed original copy of songs from he film signed by Debbie Reynolds, who played Kathy in the film. So you better believe I was sitting on the edge of my seat, ears piqued in anticipation of one of my quirky personal favorite musical moments, All I Do Is Dream of You, the scene in which Kathy, emerging from a larger-than-life birthday cake at a studio party, first reveals her musical prowess to Smith’s Lockwood. Absolutely charming. I’m in! She also brings a flood of musical emotion to You Are My Lucky Star as well as Act 2’s Would You, and a sweetness to Good Morning.
With no signs of the talent-drencher letting up, there’s also Dax Patrick as Cosmo Brown. In-keeping with the aforementioned cinematic counterparts, Patrick is playing the role originally brought to hilarious heights by Donald O’Connor. Again, not veering too far from it’s genesis, Patrick’s Brown provides much of the show’s sillier moments, while his co-stars play the romantic scenes. A late addition to the cast, Patrick wasn’t originally set to play the second male lead, but you ‘d never know it. As expected, his highlights include Make ‘Em Laugh, during which he trips the laughs fantastic with a real dummy of a dance partner. No, seriously, he dances with a life-size cloth human form, and it’s delightful. Also delightful, his Act 1 actual duet with Smith’s Lockwood, and of course, Act 2 opener, the much-mentioned and much-loved Good Morning.alongside both Smith and Duggan. Again, not one to disappoint, Ellis and his choreogrpaher makes sure Good Morning does indeed include the always enjoyable couch-ography.
Of course you can’t have an old school Hollywood musical without a foil. To that end is the stunning Brittany Blaire Anderson totally playing against type as manipulative and demanding Lina Lamont. Lina Lamont sounds like a really irritated Betty Boop, if Betty Boop were mean…and from Jersey. In spite of the vocal challenges of the role, Anderson gets her time to shine vocally during Lamont’s lament, What’s Wrong With Me? Like her co-stars, she also shows off her dancing skills in several of the show’s group numbers.
OK, so here’s a good time for a little plot exposition. Lockwood and Lamont are famed actors in Hollywood’s silent film era. When talkies come into vogue, the studio is eager to make the transition, but there’s one catch.Enter Kathy Selden, a chorus girl looking for her big break, who just so happens to speak with poise and sing like an angel. So Lockwood, with he help of his pal Brown, convince the studio head to not only turn their stinker of a talking into a musical, but to let Kathy provide not only Lina’s speaking voice, but her singing one as well. This is also a good time to mention how much I loved the fact that the brought out an actual working piano during a handful of Brown’s scenes…and Patrick actually played it! It’s details like that that make an Ellis production just that!
In addition to the featured foursome, Ellis has peppered his cast with several enjoyable performers. Among them, Drew Dunlop (not Dew, although, given this show’s title, the alternative might be more appropriate), Scarlett Turney, Natalie Royal, Landon Spangler, Logan Taylor, David Brown, Becky Charlton, Mark David Williams, David Campbell, Terrie Kirby, Shelby Jones, Kiana Schofill, Mary Humphrey, Trenton Brown, Sharon Bessant, Shiloh Bakalyar, Natalie Garrison, Zoe Zent, Sarah Kistner, Kobe Hermann and Jackson Kinsey & Charlie Bartlett (the latter two steal the show during their brief time on stage as younger versions of the two leading men. Whether in the previously mentioned All I Do or during Beautiful Girls and the show’s all-in colorful rain-slicker-clad finale, the talent and fun these folks are sharing on stage is sure to bring a rainbow to even the cloudiest of days.
ACCC’s Singin’ in the Rain presents one final thunderstorm of talent Saturday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m. CLICK HERE for tickets. Next up at The Arts Center of Cannon County (1424 John Bragg Highway, Woodbury, TN) is The Nerd, onstage March 29-April 13. CLICK HERE for tickets or more information or check out The Arts Center of Cannon County online or on Facebook.