(L to R) Luke Hawkins, Sasha Hutchings, Blake Spellacy and the company of Singin’ in the Rain • Photo by Kirk Tuck • Tickets here.
The rain scenes steal the show in this happy, energetic tale of 20th century disruption.
And it took a stunning special effect to steal this show, as the talented cast had the audience laughing, clapping and even cheering on a recent Saturday during an all-singing, all-dancing performance that delivered throughout its two acts.
Going by the cross section in the audience, ZACH’s “Singin’ in the Rain” also delivered on director Abe Reybold’s and choreographer Dominique Kelley’s aim of transcending demographics and introducing this classic to Austin’s large millennial audience.
Set in the days when the first “talkies” were made, bursting the bubble of silent movie makers, Singin’ in the Rain tells the story of a fictitious movie studio’s attempts to weather this early 20th century disruption.
Although it is a work that has withstood the sands of time and has many layers, as is the way of musicals (and their operatic cousins), the ensuing love story is corny, with several large fantastical leaps in the storyline. Yet, that doesn’t grate, as we’re carried along by toe-tapping lyrics and Kelley’s tap-dancing choreography, all accompanied by a rousing live musical accompaniment from the hidden orchestra.
I was one of many that jumped to my feet to applaud the headlining “Singin’ in the Rain” number that closed the first act. For those fondly recalling the 1952 black and white movie, and Gene Kelly’s iconic performance, do not tremble. Luke Hawkins as Don Lockwood taps, sings and splashes his way through the growing puddles at ZACH with verve and confidence. As the rain fell, Hawkins looked like a crystal pinwheel with glistening droplets spinning out from his soaked, twirling figure.
Spoiler alert: there was a collective roar of approval from the appreciative audience at the close of the second act when the finale brought the whole ensemble–decked out in yellow slickers and rain boots–splashing onto the stage for a reprise. (A heartening touch: the cast is appealing for and collecting donations after every performance for Houston’s Alley Theatre, to help that company recover from the devastating flooding brought by Hurricane Harvey.)
Hawkins’ co-stars Sasha Hutchings (playing the Cinderella-like Kathy Selden) and Blake Spellacy (Cosmo Brown) also deserve more than this passing mention. Hutchings’ clear tone and bubbling personality brought this reviewer in mind of another icon, Julie Andrews. As Cosmo Brown (Don Lockwood’s faithful sidekick), Spellacy could easily have been a third wheel. Yet, his delicate touch with comedy, and ability to engage the audience, brought an unexpected shine and substance to his role.
Let’s also pause to acknowledge the energy of Keri Safran as the silent screen femme fatale Lina Lamont. “Fingernails on a chalkboard” does not begin to describe Lamont’s voice throughout the production–whether singing off-key or fluffing her Eliza Doolittle-like elocution classes, it was complete. And, having heard her true voice after the final curtain, I’m even more admiring of Safran’s transformative abilities. I also thoroughly enjoyed the humorous touches which showed the loving care and attention that is a hallmark of ZACH’s musical productions. (Keep an eye out for the gorilla, and the all-male quadrille by the hemp ropes.)
Talking of transformations: the rain on stage at ZACH came from heated water tanks, connected via long pipes and sprinkler spigots to the stage, explained Reybold. The rain deck covers the entire stage, and is raked from front to back, keeping folks in the Topfer theater’s front rows dry
“Whether it was adding waterproof microphones or rock rosin to make the stage less slippery, the cast and crew at ZACH problem solved throughout technical rehearsals,” said Reybold.
Of course, a slippery stage and a fast-moving tap sequence, including jumps, gave choreographer Dominique Kelley his own set of challenges. Having danced in the feature film “Across the Universe” (where he “got hypothermia and slipped everywhere”) he knew first-hand what this production’s cast was facing. “I enjoy putting myself in the artist’s tap shoes and thinking what I would need to overcome to ensure a consistent performance. From that point, the process begins,” he explained.
See for yourself how successful the process was. Buy your tickets now for this unmissable show. Take your friends and family–no one will be disappointed.
Singin’ in the Rain runs through October 29 at ZACH’s Topfer Theatre. Buy tickets here.