Dancing beats the romancing in Drury Lane’s ‘Singin’ in the Rain’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org December 3, 2012 4:04PM
Broadway actor Tony Yazbeck, who took over the lead role after Sean Malone was injured, splashes around in “Singin’ in the Rain” at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
‘SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN’
When: Through Jan. 13
Where: Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre, 100 Drury Ln., Oakbrook Terrace
Info: (630) 530-0111; www.drurylaneoakbrook.com
Updated: January 5, 2013 6:09AM
It may be called “Singin’ in the Rain.” But watching the stage version of the classic 1952 MGM film musical — now in a spare-no-expense production at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre — it is the dancing that gets you.
And it’s not just the title number, which comes with a downpour of hurricane force for which the Drury Lane plumbing system and stage were fitted out at a cost of about $80,000. To be sure, that climactic Act I number is danced with fearless abandon by Tony Yazbeck, the veteran Broadway actor who arrived during previews to replace the injured Sean Malone in the role of Don Lockwood, the silent film star who makes a successful transition to “the talkies.
In fact, the dancing begins immediately with “Fit as a Fiddle,” when we see the boyish Lockwood and his best pal, Cosmo Brown (the exceptional Matthew Crowle, who gives the most sharply drawn portrayal in the show), performing years earlier in their vaudeville act. Crowle, as the guy who has an abundance of smarts and talent but lacks the good looks for stardom, then moves on to a knockout, pratfall-filled solo turn in “Make ’Em Laugh.” And, in “Moses Supposes,” the third number ingeniously choreographed by the actor, he is joined for further sensational tap dance exploits by Yazbeck and Kathy Selden (the understated Jenny Guse), who clearly is adored by both men, though Cosmo knows he hasn’t got a chance with her. (The remainder of the show’s choreography is the work of Amber Mak, and she does not disappoint, either in the title number or “Good Morning.”)
So why is this production (with its book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Arthur Freed, and music by Nacio Herb Brown) something less than satisfying beyond its fabulous footwork?
Clearly director Bill Jenkins had a slew of things to deal with here — from the departure of his leading actor, to the elaborate waterworks, to the silent film sequences and more. But he seems to have built the show by moving from big number to big number, rather than by focusing on the crucial element of flow and connection, and the need to maintain emotional energy by means of seamless transitions. Too often the air goes out of the storytelling, the chemistry in crucial relationships is missing, and there is no sense of a cohesive acting style among the performers — with some playing far too broadly and cartoonishly and others naturalistically.
As Lina Lamont, the silent film actress with the shrill voice and even shriller personality (but no shortage of shrewdness), Melissa Van Der Schyff has her moment in “What’s Wrong With Me?” — a song that is something of a poor relation to “Adlaide’s Lament” in “Guys & Dolls.”
John Reeger is his usual class act as the dialect coach in “Moses Supposes.” Renee Matthews is most stylish as the doyenne of the celebrity red carpet. And Katie Huff is a vampy opportunist.
Music directors Roberta Duchak and Ben Johnson do their usual solid work, but at moments the singers are overwhelmed by the big sound of the orchestra. And because there is so much going on in this production, the sheer charm of some of the songs gets drowned out.
But then there’s the dancing. Paired with the droll, impossibly agile Crowle and the unaffected Guse, Yazbeck, with his bravura technique and powerhouse lungs, suggests the relaxed muscularity of Gene Kelly, even if he is more guy-next-door than charismatic star.