Zach Theatre’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ has snazzy special effects but somewhat soggy story

Since its release in 1952, the film “Singin’ in the Rain” has gradually gained cultural prestige as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) movie musicals of all time. Its mid-1980s adaptation to the Broadway stage is slightly less heralded but is also perhaps one of the most obvious and effortless translations of a film into a stage musical. Zach Theatre’s new production of the musical is a fun and frolicsome, if somewhat bland, presentation of the classic story.

Contributed by Kirk Tuck

That story follows the silent film-era screen couple Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont as they face the many challenges of transitioning to the talkies, including Lina’s one-sided love for Don, Don’s desire to be taken more seriously as an actor, and Lina’s painfully pitched voice. Into this mix comes Kathy Selden, a young ingénue whom Don quickly falls for and who dubs in for Lina’s voice, invoking the vengeful starlet’s wrath.

The stage version of “Singin’ in the Rain” skews so closely to the original movie that its book is wholly credited to the original screenwriters, Betty Camden and Adolph Green, and its songs to the film’s composer Nacio Herb Brown and lyricist Arthur Freed. Several scenes that were cut from the final film have been added back in to pad the show for time.

RELATED: Bring on the tap dancing for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

The problem with this is that “Singin’ in the Rain” works so perfectly on film that it can only lose strength in translation. The 103-minute movie, when stretched into a two-act musical, becomes less compactly charming, and the show has a significantly hard time living up to the iconic screen performances of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.

Sasha Hutchings and Luke Hawkins star in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Zach Theatre. Contributed by Kirk Tuck

Zach’s production suffers from these unfortunate pitfalls, though not from lack of effort or talent. Luke Hawkins is perfectly charming as Don, and Sasha Hutchings is effervescent as Kathy, but together they don’t quite have the chemistry to make their passion for one another fully believable. Hawkins’ duets with Blake Spellacy, as Don’s best friend and former vaudeville partner Cosmo Brown, have much greater vibrancy.

Fortunately, each of the three leads has their moments to shine. Hutchings’ voice is as gorgeous as her charm is infectious, while Spellacy’s comedic magnetism steals every scene he’s in (and impressively allows him to get big laughs out of jokes that are over a half-century old). Keri Safran, as Lamont, also has some moments of great humor, though she is hobbled by the rather one-note joke of her grating voice. Hawkins, meanwhile, is a prodigiously talented tap dancer, and his performance of the title song is the highlight of the show.

Director Abe Reybold and his design and technical teams create stage magic by making it not only rain on stage but pour down enough to create puddles that choreographer Dominique Kelley has Hawkins play with, in and around. In taking a uniquely filmic moment and translating it to the stage, the team puts together a show-stopping number that closes the first act with a bang (or, as it were, a splash). The complete drying of the stage during intermission is a testament to stage manager Catherine Ann Tucker, assistant stage managers Megan Barrett and Megan Smith, and the rest of the hard-working stage crew.

However, the rest of “Singin’ in the Rain” ends up feeling rather muted compared to this spectacular number. The remainder of the show lacks in excitement even as it remains high in charm and spirit. Though a 65-year-old script holds up well as a classic movie, when translated to the present-day musical stage, it becomes a bit of a drip.

“Singin’ in the Rain”
When: 7:30 Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 29
Where: 202 S. Lamar Blvd.
Cost: $30-$150
Information: 512-476-0541, zachtheatre.org

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