Leaving Friday's Countryside Community Theatre performance of Singin' in the Rain, I overheard one woman say to another, "Well, that was a different take on it." Actually, I would love to see a different take on this classic musical written by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, with lyrics by Arthur Freed and music by Nacio Herb Brown. But director/choreographer Christina Myatt's production is, instead, an homage to the original film with only-slightly-adjusted re-creations of Gene Kelly's original choreography, yet one boasting just enough beautiful, original touches to avoid direct mimicry of the movie.
While perusing the program prior to the production's start, I will admit disappointment at seeing Myatt listed as its director - not because I thought she'd be a poor choice, but because I thought she'd be a great Kathy Selden, giving the Singin' in the Rain character (Debbie Reynolds in the movie) a brassier edge and self-certainty. However, I quickly noted that Melissa Pepper - whom I adored as the lead in Quad City Music Guild's Cinderella last year - was playing Kathy, and I figured the role was in good hands. I was mostly right.
Pepper's initial appearance, in which she first meets (real-life husband) Daniel Pepper's silent-film star Don Lockwood, is a bit stiff, particularly physically; Melissa acts as if she's lost the ability to turn her neck, forcing her to constantly, and awkwardly, direct her focus out to the audience. (She also refuses to make eye contact with Daniel for most of the scene, even when they're speaking to each other directly.) However, Melissa redeems herself during her first number - the flashy "All I Do Is Dream of You," performed by Kathy and a group of female dancers at a studio party. While Myatt's dance steps are fantastically showy and filled with high energy, Melissa is clearly the star of the scene, adding extra exuberance, smiles, and personal touches to the choreography. She shines in the song, vocally and physically, and continues to shine through the rest of her performance.
Daniel Pepper, however, doesn't miss a beat from beginning to end. His turn as Lockwood, the actor hoping to continue his film career by segueing into talkies, is so smooth that it's hard to tell he's even acting; Daniel seems a natural on stage and carries the entire production through his captivating performance. (Though it's a Gene Kelly role, Daniel's characterization bears a delightful, uncanny resemblance, in physicality and personality, to Clinton Kelly, co-host of the daytime program The Chew.)
As the other half of the silent-film team Lockwood & Lamont, Dianna McKune's Lina Lamont exudes all of the air-headed humor of Jean Hagen, who originated the role in the film, but with a more believable, human-sounding voice than Hagen. That is, while McKune employed the high-pitched squeaks and dimwitted tones required of the role, the actress also sometimes dropped the voice enough to make me wonder why Don and the studio ever saw the need to cover it up in their first talking picture. McKune's take on the part, however, maintains the fun of it, and exposes a sexier side of Lina in her "What's Wrong With Me?" solo, a song (and, in my opinion, an out-of-place one) added to the movie musical's stage adaptation.
Of course, the big question regarding any stage production of Singin' in the Rain is: "Does it rain?" Yes, it does, though the curtain of drips is hard to see against this production's bright background of white, with its buildings painted in light blues. (I had to look up to the lights to see sparkles of raindrops falling.) What is apparent, though, is the rain's effect, as Daniel Pepper's costume gets wetter and wetter, and a puddle grows on stage as it escapes the tray meant to catch the water. (On Friday, I actually missed some of the dance steps as I nervously watched the pool of rain creep toward the orchestra pit.)
The show could be made better with a few tweaks. Its scene transitions are sometimes too long, with the time spent without any singing or dialogue creating an uneven pacing, and Eric Reyes could be a bigger ham as Don's best friend Cosmo Brown (although his miming mimicry in the song "Moses" is spot-on silly and hilarious). However, Countryside Community Theatre's presentation of Singin' in the Rain is still a good one, as Myatt and her cast craft something satisfyingly familiar with enough distinct personality to make the production feel fresh.
Singin' in the Rain runs at North Scott High School's Fine Arts Auditorium (200 South First Street, Eldridge) through July 21, and information and tickets are available by calling (563)285-6228 or visiting CCTOnStage.org.