By Pat Launer
The weather was gorgeous; who could complain?
It didn’t stop us from “Singin’ in the Rain.”
Another evening was also top-shelf:
6th@ Penn’s “Beside Herself.”
I kinda wonder if they danced over to the dinner table, tapped their way through tooth-brushing. The Wards are the singingest, dancingest family you’ve ever seen. And they are strutting their stuff, big time, at Moonlight Stage Productions. Don and Bonnie directed “Singin’ in the Rain,” which stars Kirby and his wife Beverly — and his brother Kelly. They’re joined by the talented Anderson clan — Eric, his wife Erin, and his father, Nils. Too, too juicy! The guy next to me was crying ‘Nepotism!” I was shouting “Bravo!”
This show is incredibly hard to do; first, because the 1952 film is so indelibly embedded in our collective psyche. Second, because of the titular song and the technical nightmares it creates (raindrops must keep fallin’ on his head!!) And third, it demands the shooting of black-and-white silent and “talkie” films, starring, of course, the musical’s stars. This one’s not for techno-wimps or the theatrical faint of heart. Well, have no fear. Venture forth and seek out a new Vista. This stupendous production rains supreme!
There were times (especially during the title tune) when I could’ve sworn that Kirby Ward was channeling the late, great Gene Kelly (who, with Stanley Donen, directed and choreographed the movie). And there were moments that funny, rubber-legged Kelly Ward seemed to be taken over by the spirit of Donald O’Connor. Don’t forget that the film, arguably the greatest movie musical ever made (though there was last year’s “Chicago” …) was also the debut of Debbie Reynolds, and happened to feature Rita Moreno and Cyd Charisse. Well, Moonlight has irresistible Beverly Ward as the irresistible Kathy Selden, the actress-wannabe who steals the heart of silent film heartthrob Don Lockwood (Kirby)… and the audience as well. Blonde-bewigged, long-limbed Erin Anderson screeches out the world’s most annoying voice (while wearing the season’s most gorgeous costumes) as the silent star Lina Lamont, who can’t learn to say cahn’t and therefore won’t make the move to the real movies .
Oh, and did I mention that the films made for this production were directed by Kirby Ward? Astonishing. They were funny and professional and incredibly well done. The serviceable sets were rented in (though I heard that the rain effect was sort of non-functional and the Moonlight wizards had to re-conceive it). All the other design-work was local, including the reminiscent (and sometimes aptly and precisely borrowed) choreography by the Wards senior, with close family friend Peggy Hickey doing the choreographic honors for the huge production number, “Broadway Melody.” Ambra Wakefield created the magnificent costumes, but Erin Anderson had her own costume designer: Sharell Martin. Sound and lighting were designed by two of San Diego’s finest: Peter Hashagen and the ubiquitous David Cuthbert (who’s off soon to points north for a tenured teaching position at UC Santa Cruz… His new adventure is our GREAT loss! But he’ll still be designing around town — through Christmas and beyond. And btw, for all you rumor-mongers: Kirsten has no plans to leave Sledgehammer; they’ll be maintaining two residences. Some weird conjectures have been flying, so let’s put ’em to rest right here). Anyway, the lighting is terrific, and really highlights the rain, the films and all the other wondrous effects. The cast is huge — over 30! — and the dancing is nonpareil. Veteran theater critic and North County Times writer Bill Fark even puts in a cameo appearance as the Man on Screen. The good-sized orchestra (18 players), under the direction and baton of Dan Redfeld, was a bit weak in the brass section during the overture, but the strings and woodwinds were great throughout, and the brass came into their own later.
There is nothing not to like here; everything hums, purrs, sings, taps, cavorts and delights. Only one word of caution; it’s a long evening (3 hours). But you can do what some young parents did with their kids; bring jammies! When I was a kid, we were dressed up in our nightclothes for an evening at the drive-in. How much sweeter and more delicious to take the young ‘uns to live theater! If you like music (all those great songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, like “All I Do Is Dream of You,” “Make ’em Laugh,” Good Morning,” “You Are My Lucky Star” and the ever-amusing “Moses Supposes”), and if you like musicals, you’ll shoot yourself later if you miss this one! Besides, it’s the 50th anniversary of the movie release… you need to go and celebrate. The ’20s never looked, felt or sounded so good!
ME, MYSELF AND I
Middle-aged Mary seems to be living alone. But she has…. Visitations. From her own youth, her earlier incarnations. Life hasn’t turned out as planned; she’s lost, and she’s literally “Beside Herself.” Her three conjured ‘spirits’ taunt her, and force her to review and relive events of the past. And even at this late date, they compel her to change, to try to get things more ‘right’ in her final go-round. It’s a little Noel Coward (Blithe Spirits?) and a lot of fun, though it’s really sort of serious at heart. As Mary sorts through her things, throwing stuff out, she has to sift through her earlier choices, and confront them honestly as she reveals her later experiences to her younger, more hopeful, less cynical selves. Jeannette Horn is thoroughly credible as the worn-down older woman, and Catie Marron is cute as her most youthful manifestation. But it’s the interactions among the buoyant teen (upbeat Shannon Diana), disillusioned bride (sarcastic Laurie Lehmann-Gray) and resigned elder that makes this production sing. Intermittently, a UPS man appears in the neighborhood of the deserted, island-bound bog — first Harry (Anthony Gioffre) and then the delightfully neurotic Augie-Jake (Robert Borzych, in one of his best performances). George Gonzalez has worked wonders in transforming the “Children of Heracles” set into a run-down cabin in the middle of nowhere (the two shows are running on the same stage). Bernard Baldan’s spare direction hits just the right notes, avoiding melodrama, searching out honest interactions and emotions. A small, lovely piece, lovingly produced. What else do you have to do on ‘off nights’?
Well, it’s official… At long last, “Hedwig” is ready to make a splash at the new Cygnet Theatre (6663 El Cajon Blvd., near Montezuma, in the College area). The final hurdle was a pisser — literally. The urinal had to be re-situated, concrete steps had to be poured (stairway to heaven??) and the final seal of approval was stamped. According to artistic director Sean Murray, it was a bureaucratic horror every angry inch of the way. But that’s all behind Sean and his minions now. When I went to take a peek at the place, it was like Who’s Who in San Diego theater — all pitching in to get the theater ready: one laying tile, another painting walls, hanging lights, cleaning toilets, preparing a winged Pride float. This has been a genuine (theater) community effort. Good luck to all! The space looks great. Now, on with the show!
THIS WEEK”S ‘DON’T MISS’ LIST
“Singin’ in the Rain” — amazing production; fabulous dance, terrific effects (rain and all!) –at Moonlight Stage Productions, through 8/10
“Beside Herself” — interesting play, lovely performances — at 6th @ Penn, Sundays through Wednesdays, through 8/30
“Dirty Blonde” – terrific performances — and Kathy Najimy! (but only for part of the run) — at the Globe, through 8/30
“The Children of Heracles” — Marianne McDonald’s wonderfully accessible new translation, which provides the opportunity for two killer performances: by Jack Banning and young Shannon Partrick; at 6th@ Penn, ‘on-nights’ (thurs-Sat.) through 8/24
This week, it’s a Family Affair. Watch one onstage (dysfunctional or otherwise… IS there an ‘otherwise’??) or bring your own…
Whatever you do, Put a little Drama in your Life.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.