‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre

FOUR STARS
Good morning, good morning! I’ve seen the whole show through. Good morning, good morning! And it’s a pleasant show to view! Well good morning, good morning! That’s the thing to do— see Singin’ in the Rain before it’s through! At Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre, of course! With real rain! A classic musical with screenplay and adaptation by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, all the fond happy memories of Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds are springing to life in the spring of Maryland. Directed by Bill Kiska with Musical Direction by Jordan B. Stocksdale, this vibrant production makes for a perfect spring evening out at the theatre, and hey— there’s even dinner!

The Company of The Way-Off Broadway Dinner Theatre's production of 'Singin' In The Rain.'  Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway.

The Company of The Way-Off Broadway Dinner Theatre’s production of ‘Singin’ In The Rain.’ Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway.

The show’s directorial team doubles up as the Set Designing team, producing an incredibly crafty and thoroughly beautiful set for this show. Kiska and Stocksdale bring Hollywood realness to the first of many impressive folding and rotating set pieces with the grand entrance to the Chinese Theatre for the opening number. The versatility that the set encompasses in such a compact space is beyond impressive. One of the most visually stunning moments in the production happens when the ‘faux Broadway’ number comes into play and the stage is transformed with all the gleaming glitz and razzamatazz of the Great White Way. Hats off to Lighting Designer Justin M. Kiska for bringing an extra zing of glamour here by highlighting the stage in bright blinking gold and white bulbs in true Broadway style.

Singin’ in the Rain is known for its tap routines and Choreographer Dee Buchanan brings the whole company to their toes in the “Broadway Melody” and the “Finale” for one heaping dose of clickity-clack from heel to toe. Buchanan’s solo and duet routines, often featuring Cosmo and Don are well executed, particularly Cosmo’s fancy footwork during “Moses Supposes.” Buchanan even proves that trio tap and dance routines are her forte with the sharp and clean and perfectly simple routine reserved for “Good Morning.” Catering to all levels of dancing talent, Buchanan successfully keeps dance moving throughout the production while looking tight and uniformed.

The show’s major flaw is the imbalance of music and sound against the singers. Sound Designer Bill Kiska does have a series of cleverly captured sound effects, especially during the opening number where the wild crowd is cheering on the arrival of all the big stars to the movie premier. These sound effects often blare through the sound system drowning out loud speaking voices. Similar sound issues occur when the music is played for big song numbers like “Singin’ in the Rain” and Don’s solo is swept away in the sound effect of the live rainfall and the musical score.

A singing voice that rise above the crowd and warrants notice is that of the Production Tenor (Charlie Cizek.) Leading the number “Beautiful Girls” with his charming voice and pristine glide-step routine, Cizek creates a dreamy vision for everyone watching during that scene. Other performers of note include the gruff R. F. Simpson (Samn Huffer) and the spastic Roscoe Dexter (Zane L. Oberholzer Jr.)  While Huffer and Oberholzer lend their voices to the finale, their primary performances come from the richly quirky characters they’ve developed. Huffer plays the wise, albeit grouchy, producer while Oberholzer portrays the high-strung director. Oberholzer has no problem dishing out the theatrics with Lina Lamont (Melissa Ann Martin) and holds his own in a shouting match against her.

Lina Lamont (Melissa Ann Martin). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway,

Lina Lamont (Melissa Ann Martin). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway,

Show-stealer Melissa Ann Martin creates an unforgettably funny and outrageously wild character with her portrayal of Lina Lamont. Best described as the lovechild between Guys and Dolls’ Adelaide and Betty Boop, Martin gives a sensational caricature performance with her nasally squeaking voice and her atrocious diction. She’s a comic trollop and her shenanigans explode in a most appeasing larger than life fashion. Her temper tantrums are a riot and her overall existence in the production is simply a scream; her finest hour coming during her comic lament, “What’s Wrong With Me?” Solid dedication to the intense character choices makes Martin an uproarious sensation in this production.

With a real clean knack for tappin’ and delivering comedy it’s Cosmo (Joseph Waeyaert) that kept me in stitches. Waeyaert has a keen sense of comic timing making his one-liners really zip and zing when delivered. Rolling with the punches and punching his way through this sidekick role, Waeyaert finds little moments to make his own, carrying some of the fancier footwork of the intense tap routine featured in “Moses Supposes.” Really earning the yucks from “Make ‘em Laugh” Waeyaert throws himself, and quite physically to boot, into this number with gusto and really comes out on top.

No love story musical would be complete without an ingénue. Kathy Selden (Jaimie Lea Kiska) fits the bill from her timid nature to her quiet voice. In true homage to the sound of singing before the real sound of musical theatre was found, Kiska performs “You Are My Lucky Star” in an air head voice with a continual vibrato arching through her notes. Performing in “Good Morning” her much stronger musical theatre mezzo mixed range shines through and she is easily heard above her two partners in this number. The chemistry that burbles between Kiska’s Miss Selden and Don Lockwood (Jordan B. Stocksdale) is delightful. Starting off as sassy and almost volatile, the pair quickly grow fond of one another and their duet “You Are My Lucky Star” near the end of the show displays the way their feelings for one another has progressed.

Stocksdale is a natural charmer in the role of Hollywood buff Don Lockwood. Though at times the music also washes away his solos, the genuine emotion flowing through what can be heard is quite touching. His rendition of “You Stepped Out of a Dream” is sweet and tender and filled with the notions of love at first sight. Taking to the title number, his rendition of “Singin’ in the Rain” is playful and joyous; his heart leaping out through the song to share his contagious excitement with the audience. A wonderfully quaint performance that captures the essence of 1927 movie musicals.

(l to r) Don Lockwood (Jordan B. Stocksdale). Kathy Selden (Jaimie Lea Kiska), and Cosmo (Joseph Waeyaert). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway.

(l to r) Don Lockwood (Jordan B. Stocksdale). Kathy Selden (Jaimie Lea Kiska), and Cosmo (Joseph Waeyaert). Photo courtesy of Way Off Broadway.

Yes, there is real rain on the stage, if everything I’ve said above hasn’t given you enough reason to want to investigate this rare gem of a production, go simply to experience the rain!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one intermission.

Singin’ in the Rain plays through May 31, 2014 at Way Off Broadway Dinner Theatre— Willowtree Plaza at 5 Willowdale Lane in Frederick, MD. Tickets are available for purchase by calling (301) 662-660 or by stopping by the box office in person during normal business hours.

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