A movie can sometimes capture a moment so perfectly that it transports an audience decades through time to the theater during its original run. “Singin’ in the Rain” somehow captures two moments. A love letter to both the conveyor-belt studio films of the 20s and the “Technicolor Musical” epidemic of the 40s and 50s, “Singin’ in the Rain” should be the perfect escape from the deluge of superhero action flicks and Melissa McCarthy rom-coms flooding the industry today. Instead, I’m left wondering if anyone at the Omaha Community Playhouse has any love for films from either of the former eras.
The Playhouse summer musical takes its plot straight from the 1952 film: A pair of famous lead actors (Nate Wasson as Don Lockwood and Cathy Hirsch as Lina Lamont) have their film shut down to be reworked into the studio’s first talking picture. Lamont’s high-pitched, nasally voice leads Lockwood to redub her lines with the voice of his love interest, Kathy Selden (Tayler Plank). Lamont is offended.
Wasson and Plank are both fantastic dancers, but it took until the show’s eighth number (“You Were Meant For Me”) for me to notice. Before that, the two slowly delivered monotone dialogue and popped off a few forgettable, rigid songs. Wasson stood tall, seemingly unaware of his gift for movement outside of choreography. His stoic Lockwood leaned into neither Lockwood’s scrappy vaudeville beginnings nor the original Gene Kelly’s ethereal charm. If only his voice and blocking moved as fluidly as his feet. Plank is missing that lead-girl Alto-toughness for which stars of the time are so well-known. Her huffy sighs between lines did little to replace her character’s missing personality. I had trouble picking her out of group numbers. I’m not sure how the other characters always seemed to. Perhaps the two had to cancel other plans for the night; neither seemed to be having fun on stage. Selden even teases than movie actors “don’t act. They just make a lot of dumb show.” Fitting.
The biggest shame is how heavily the script relies on a likable Lockwood, as the rest of the cast shone through their small windows. Hirsch’s Lamont scored huge laughs with her over-the-top character voice and revenge-scheming. Lockwood’s best friend, Cosmo Brown (J. Isaiah Smith), is the real deal, spinning and smiling his way through top-notch physical comedy. Don Harris and Rob Baker ham up otherwise unremarkable studio execs, bringing much-needed energy to the stage. I don’t know where the Playhouse found so many pairs of tap shoes, doubly dancers to fill them.
Thankfully, Kelly’s fifteen-minute fever dream/ego stroke, “The Broadway Ballet,” has been truncated here to a short ensemble song, fixing the film’s biggest pace breaker. And yes, Wasson does sing in rain (causing one actress to slip during bows. Please be okay!). The short segments of the film the characters are producing land big laughs, especially for bit player Marcus Benzel. But the show is marred by awkward choices: zippily written dialogue seems to hang in the air too long; Wasson and Smith spend a number mockingly dancing around a character played by Jason DeLong, one of Omaha’s most experienced dancers; unnecessary scenes cover even less necessary costume changes. Even a kiss played for laughs went on long enough to feel uncomfortable.
Completely missing from this classic period piece was the lilting Mid-Atlantic accent. That’s the old-timey talk that sells the otherworldliness of early radio and talking picture shows. Leaving in modern Midwestern accents felt like listening to the prettiest boy in Prieto’s ninth-grade English class read the part of Romeo all over again. I expected more from the Playhouse. A decade ago, I took a $20, two-hour British accent class at the very same theater. I still use that accent to make fun of my British brother-in-law today. It seems to land.
“Singin’ in the Rain” may be the perfect way to end the season, as this reviewer asked himself if it was time to take a break from going to the theater before the end of the first act. For some, the theater itself may be magic enough to bring back memories; two older ladies helped an even older lady out to the car while humming the titular song. For me, with a show relying so heavily on the charm of its lead, I’ll have to borrow Lena Lamont’s most famous line: “I can’t stann ‘im!”
“Singin’ in the Rain” is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse from June 1 to June 24, Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available through the box office at (402) 553-0800. Tickets start at $32 for Wednesdays and $42 Thursdays through Sundays. Student tickets start at $20 Wednesdays and $25 Thursdays through Sundays.