There’s something about good tap dancing that feeds on itself. You can feel the energy start to build, almost sense the heat from the dancers. It doesn’t take much to imagine you can actually see sparks generating from those furiously tapping toes.
Such a moment occurs not once but several times in the thoroughly happy “Singing’ in the Rain” at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Dancing is king in this production, and veteran choreographer Kaye Migaki delivers some inspired moves. One of my favorites comes in the standout number “Moses Supposes” in which our two young leading men — Dominic Grijalva and Daniel Hernandez — embark on a ferocious tap series. You could actually see Grijalva’s smile widen as he gets faster — it’s like watching the supremely confident, cocky enthusiasm of a race car driver pushing the accelerator pedal to its limit. “Oh yeah,” his expression said. “This is fun.”
The stage version of “Singing’ in the Rain” came along decades after the beloved movie, and I’m guessing there are plenty of people who would have been fine just sticking with the cinematic version. The movie reigns, no question about it, and the stage version has to content itself more with paying homage to a classic than standing on its own as a sparkling standalone piece of musical theater. But the material is still great, and co-directors Joshua Montgomery and Elizabeth Fiester give us a mostly spiffy, happy experience.
Hernandez plays Don Lockwood, the Gene Kelly role in the movie, and Grijalva plays his sidekick, Cosmo Brown (the Donald O’Connor role). Together they spin the familiar tale: Hollywood is on the cusp of the age of talking movies, which doesn’t exactly bode well for Don Lockwood’s longtime pairing with the beautiful Lina Lamont (a strongly played Paige Parker). It turns out that Lamont has a screechy speaking voice. When the movie studio decides to turn its latest film from a silent into a talkie, hilarity predictably occurs.
There’s a romantic complication, of course: Lockwood falls for a struggling actress named Kathy Selden (Danielle Behrens in an assured Good Company Players debut), who has a voice like an angel’s — and would be the perfect candidate to dub over the caustic Lina’s screech.
One of the major strengths is the show’s production design. From David Pierce’s beautifully crafted set (complete with a subtly lighted backdrop of the Hollywood hills) to Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s scrumptious period costumes (along with swanky movie-star glamour she comes up with some choice comic ensembles, including what look like the world’s most explosively plaid pajamas for a vaudeville routine), the production sparkles. Evan Commins’ lights and Andrea Henrickson’s sound are spot-on. My only disappointment when it comes to the dazzle factor is the title number (and first-act finale), which has to rely on a lighting effect rather than actual wet stuff. I understand the budgetary and logistical reasons, but to me, the number was a bit of a let-down.
Film sequences (credited to Don Thompson) play a large role in the production as well. This is where we get to see the cheesy silent-movie acting style of the era, brought forth with exaggerated aplomb by Hernandez and Parker. The transitions between the projected images and the live action were seamless on opening night, and the comic moments were exceedingly well played.
Standouts in the cast include Jacob Carrillo as a wacky diction coach and Steve Souza as a blustery director. Kudos, too, to the dancers in the show-stopping number “Broadway Melody.”
Behrens has a sweet voice and infectious stage presence, and she has nice romantic chemistry with the suave and accomplished Hernandez. (Another dance and song highlight of the show is “Good Morning,” featuring the pair plus Grijalva, which includes yet more inspired choreography.) Parker is terrific at her (intentionally) awful vocals in “What’s Wrong With Me?”
As for Hernandez and Grijalva, their enthusiasm knows no bounds. Still, their solo singing wasn’t as powerful on opening night as I was expecting, possibly because of range issues. This is not one of the stronger GCP shows of the year in terms of leading vocals. But the pair make up for it with sheer stage wattage.
Grijalva has a couple of tour de force moments, including a vigorous and funny one-man rendition of the song “Make ‘Em Laugh.” There are times (and I want to say this delicately because I’m such a big fan of Grijalva’s enthusiasm) that he could actually dial down his performance. He can be almost too eager to please at times.
Then again, if Grijalva didn’t have that fire under his feet, we wouldn’t get those moments of him pushing the pedal to the metal. Even without actual water on stage, thanks to strong direction, inspired design and a talented cast, this “Singin’ in the Rain” is less a gentle mist and more an electrical storm.