Noted radio gossip personality Dora Bailey is standing outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, welcoming stars to the world premiere of the new 1927 silent film Royal Rascal. The leading cast members, Lina Lamont and Don Lockwood, arrive to a rousing ovation, and say a few words to the their clamoring fans. Actually he says a few words. That's because Lina can't speak. Actually, she can speak, sounding like the sibling of Betty Boop and the dumbest blond in town. She also thinks he is madly in love with her, but as he tells the vapid, shallow idiot, he'd rather "kiss a tarantula." She thinks that's good.
Soon, silence isn't so golden.
Hollywood hears three little words that sends terror throughout the sound stages: The Jazz Singer.
Studio moguls scoff. Executives and PR people dismiss "all talking" movies as a fad. But when the Al Jolson film becomes a smash, the greatest couple on the screen, Lina and Don, are in trouble . . . especially since they have already begun filming their next film, a French Revolution love story entitled The Dueling Cavalier.
Monumental Pictures studio head R. F. Simpson begins to join the band wagon and decides to turn the The Dueling Cavalier into The Dancing Cavalier.
Cosmo Brown, Don's pianist and childhood friend, decide the only way to make such a move work is to hide the truth. For a while.
Aspiring actress Kathy Selden agrees to talk and sing for Lina, hidden out of view of the camera. It's a secret they think even William Haines could hide.
And since Lina is a scheming peroxided blond who holds a five-year bullet-proof contract, the plan seems like it's going to work, making her sound and act like a lucky star.
There's no more to tell.
Everyone has seen Singin' in the Rain (this is the CLO's third production), considered Hollywood's greatest movie musical (though Liza thinks her Daddy's The Band Wagon is much better, something can can easily be debated).
At Friday's opening night, missed cues and minor technical flaws didn't take anything away from Betty Comden and Adolph Green's witty screenplay on which the show is based. It takes about 20 minutes for the production to really wake up---and that's okay since the show's first tune, "Fit as a Fiddle," is perhaps it's least memorable.
But when the classic tunes begin falling faster than a torrential rainstorm, it is a glorious feeling performed by a wonderful cast. As Don, David Elder matinee idol perfect, who (thankfully) refuses to imitate Gene Kelly, As Cosmo, Cary Tedder is a slapsticky kind of guy in his own style. The first showstopper of Act One is "Make 'Em Laugh," in which Tedder dance around the Benedum stage seems he popped too many dolls . . . until he literally smashes through a brick wall. Just fabulous!
As Kathy Selden (she looks just the teeniest bit like Mary Frances Reynolds), Mary Michael Patterson has a beautiful voice with palatable chemistry between she and Elder. Elder and Tedder work out a nifty "Moses Supposes," and the trio---Kathy, Cosmo and Don, do a "Good Mornin'" that may have has less energy than the film, but the "sofa" climax is still there, a bit more cautious than Stanley Donen allowed it to be on film. And Ashley Spencer is fine, but she needs to keep Lina's frilly voice even and consistent.
Oh yes. The rain. Act One's closing number is more like "Singin' in the Mist." There' water falling from the rafters, but those sitting close will realize it's a fine mist. Water does gush from the downspout and Edler does spash around like a love-happy kid, skipping and slipping and (luckily) not getting hurt. Those sitting close will see a clear plastic coasting that helps the cleaning and moping and drying much easier, and it was keen to note that the orchestra, with oversized black umbrellas covering the pit, were dry. And I guess that no matter how you slice it, the final scene has to mimic Gene Kelly as Elder jumps on a lamppost and stretches out his arms. It is classic pose . . . it's even used on the program cover.
Act Two's highlight has always been the "Broadway Ballet," and it's nice to see that the original choreography was created by Gene and Stanley. Kristine Bendul is Edler's dance partner and I still wonder how such moves and such catches were humanly possible. Simply brilliant. Keep in mind most every song was culled from other shows; Lina get s a wonderful solo (not used in the film but added to the 2012 Chichester/London 2012), an egocentric delight called "What's Wrong With Me?" And the vocal lessons taught to Lina by coach Phoebe Dinsmore are a hoot; listen carefully as her teacher says "can't," with a heavy "a," three times fast.
Gail Baldoni has come up with bright pastel and sparking costumes that may have been lifted from Dietrich's upcoming auction and not Costume World Theatrical. There's a simple, but nice, nice set by Michael Anania and I hope Andrew David Ostrowski's missed lighting cues found the right home.
I'd see the show again. Would you?
Singin' in the Rain will run through June 8 at the Bendeum Center. Tickets: $65.75-$10. Call 412.456.6666 or visit www.pittsburghclo.org.