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Article updated: 12/7/2012 4:07 PM

'Singin' in the Rain' a splash at Drury Lane

By Barbara Vitello

One thing about "Singin' in the Rain," it has great source material. That much is irrefutable.

MGM's 1952 film about Hollywood's bumpy transition from silent films to talkies features delectable songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed and an agreeable Betty Comden-Adolph Green screenplay combining a romantic boy-meets-girl comedy and a sendup of showbiz. And it boasts bona fide musical comedy royalty in topliners Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.

What's more, the American Film Institute named "Singin' in the Rain" the No. 1 movie musical of all time. Taken together, that set the bar pretty high for the 1983 stage adaptation -- currently running at Oak Brook's Drury Lane Theatre. Unfortunately, the show itself -- which quotes the film practically word-for-word -- is rather less remarkable than its source.

Perhaps it's the absence of cinematic whimsy or the physical constraints of live theater. In any case, the sluggish pacing of Drury Lane's production doesn't help, although it is understandable given last-minute cast changes that delayed the opening. And in all fairness, the pacing may improve over the course of the run.

And yet, director Bill Jenkins' production is enjoyable, thanks to his affable cast and the efforts of engineer Michael Begora and designers Kevin Depinet (set) and Bobby Richards (video), who twice deliver a thorough and convincing rainstorm that had audience members in the first few rows scrambling for the rain ponchos the theater so thoughtfully supplied.

The choreography by Amber Mak and Matthew Crowle (more about him later) is exuberant. Music directors Roberta Duchak and Ben Johnson maintain Drury Lane's typically high standards, as reflected in the gloriously rendered signature number that concludes Act 1. And the singing is lovely, especially from leading man and Broadway veteran Tony Yazbeck, who two weeks ago took over the role of 1920s Hollywood heartthrob Don Lockwood from the injured Sean Palmer.

But while the musical numbers (including Mak's not-to-be-missed curtain call) chug merrily along, the production loses steam during the uneven transitional scenes, which feel tentative and disconnected. The notable exception is one that unfolds as increasingly apoplectic director Roscoe Dexter (a broadly comic Scott Calcagno) attempts to direct silent screen diva Lina Lamont (the suitably strident Melissa Van Der Schyff), whose nails-on-a-chalkboard voice makes her spectacularly ill-suited to talking pictures.

Jenny Guse plays aspiring actress Kathy Selden, who catches the eye of Don, which earns the ire of Lina. A charming ingénue, Guse has a pretty voice and has the talent to go toe-to-toe with Yazbeck and Crowle (who plays Don's best friend Cosmo Brown) in the immensely entertaining "Good Morning," a number choreographed by the lissome and likable Crowle, who audiences may remember for his Jeff Award-nominated turn as the squire Patsy in Drury Lane's 2011 production of "Spamalot."

Crowle is sensational, nearly stopping the show with the "Make 'Em Laugh," a number he also choreographed, along with "Fit as a Fiddle" and the zesty "Moses Supposes" -- both of which he performs with Yazbeck.

These seasoned song-and-dance men make quite a pair. I expect they'll get even better as Yazbeck settles into the role.

Speaking of duets, dancer Cara Salerno earns kudos as the femme fatale opposite Yazbeck's Broadway newbie in the glitzy, impressively staged "Broadway Melody," set against lighting designer Julie Mack's vivid marquee backdrop.

Also deserving mention are the gorgeous 1920s costumes from Maine State Music Theatre Costume Rentals.

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