It seemed appropriate that on Friday night, nearing the end of what has been the driest July in Vancouver in nearly a decade, Richard and I should be at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park for Theatre Under the Stars' 2010 production of Singin' in the Rain. As TUTS producer James Cronk announced just before the start of the show, the only rain we'd be seeing over the next two hours and twenty minutes would be on stage.
And, indeed, the classic Gene Kelly title number from the MGM film is reproduced faithfully to close out Act One, with Lindsay Sterk's Don Lockwood exuberantly tapping out his love for Kathy Selden (Lauren Bowler) as the rain pours down and he uses his umbrella to whirl himself from puddle to puddle rather than to keep himself dry. A reprise of the song, featuring the entire company in bright yellow slickers and hats was a fine send-off to a very enjoyable evening. TUTS's more than 40-year commitment to staging the classic American musicals in this spectacular outdoor setting is one of the highlights of late summer in Vancouver, and there's nothing like walking out from the trees surrounding Malkin Bowl to rediscover the downtown skyline twinkling in the distance. It's one of the great city vistas, made all the more spectacular (quite literally) when one approaches it humming and dancing to a classic Broadway tune.
Singin' in the Rain, enacting like many a backstage movie musical before it, a dialectic between stage and screen, is made all the more self-reflexive by its focus on Hollywood during its transition from silent to sound cinema. The silent movie partnership between Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont (a note-perfect Cailin Stadnyk in this production) is about to be eclipsed, the plot-lines and outsized acting of their costume melodramas as unsuitable as Lina's grating Brooklyn accent to the new realism demanded by the talkies. Enter Kathy Selden, a bit player at the studio where Lockwood and Lamont work, whose free spirit and melodious voice captivate Don and set the wheels in motion in the mind of Don's piano-playing buddy Cosmo Brown (Neil Minor, who seems to channel the spirit of Donald O'Connor from the film to an uncanny degree here). Cosmo has a plan for how they can rescue Lockwood and Lamont's first talking picture: turn it into a musical and dub Kathy's voice over Lina.
Singin' in the Rain is interesting as well for the way in which it conforms to what Robert Altman, in his book The American Movie Musical, has identified as the doubled marital/entertainment telos of the genre. That is, Don and Kathy's romance not only provides the requisite heterosexual ephithalium, but in this case also saves Don's studio from going under. In the Hollywood musical, marriage and entertainment are good business.
Except that in the case of Singin' in the Rain, and other backstage musicals like it (including many starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire), there is as part of this equation also usually some sort of homosocial remainder, the buddy like Cosmo who at once orchestrates and oversees the progression of heterosexual romance and cannily inserts himself within its menage. Remember, there are three people who go over that couch in that famous scene at Don's house where Cosmo first hatches his scheme to save "The Dueling Cavalier" by turning it into "The Dancing Cavalier"--just as there are three people in the famous poster for the 1952 movie (see above). Remember, too, that Lina, as the face to Kathy's voice, and in her steadfast belief in the truth about what the gossip magazines print regarding her relationship with Don, likewise remains a spectral celluloid presence in the lives of our stage couple.
The TUTS production subtly played up these homosocial elements, with Cosmo and Don's "Moses" number (in which they parody the elocution lessons the studio requires of Lamont and Lockwood) providing for me not just the musical highlight of the evening, but also the telling evidence that, after studio boss R.F. Simpson (Fred Galloway) and his simpering assistant Rod Steele (a very charismatic Daniel White), these two bachelors are the real old marrieds on this studio lot. This was mirrored in the bosom (again, quite literally) relationship between Lina and her best friend Zelda (Lori Zondag), whose shared air kisses were a marvel to behold.
Don and Kathy might be the ostensible stars of the show as it unfurls on stage, but it's Cosmo and Lina we remember long after in our screen memories.