“Singin’ in the Rain,” the No. 1 movie musical of all time, according to the American Film Institute, pays tribute to the dawn of talkies and the age of Hollywood hoofers from a 1952 perspective. As a live show in the here and now, it transports audiences on a magical history ride through the Gene Kelly Age of song-and-dance cinema.
And oh yeah, it rains -- make that, it pours -- inside, while a lovestruck guy does an ecstatic dance and hangs from a lamppost.
Pittsburgh CLO has splashed down this street before, in 1995 and 2002, and now in 2014 has found a trio of veterans for the opener of the company’s 68th season.
You know you are in for a charmed night when Tom Helm and the CLO Orchestra starts us off with a old-time overture, and the company proceeds to deliver on all cylinders.
As movie star Don Lockwood, perhaps Kelly’s best-known role, David Elder grounds the company with a deceptively effortless grace -- whether performing intricate tap, standing flips or balletic lifts -- and seems most like the adult in the proceedings. He’s a confident leading man who gets to kiss all the girls but declare love for his one and only, Mary Michael Patterson as Kathy Seldon. Mr. Elder also is ready for his close-up, going full-throttle silly for videos with Ashley Spencer’s ditzy and devious Lina Lamont.
The screwball videos depict the growing pains of movies and the possibilities of lip-synching, scenes that have resonance today, particularly for fans of live music.
Within Don’s inner circle are previous costars Cary Tedder, a musical comedy clown of many talents as best buddy Cosmo Brown. Mr. Tedder’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” makes ‘em applaud -- a lot -- and the audience understands it is time to smile and show its appreciation whenever he’s around. Ms. Patterson, a recent Christine Daae in Broadway’s “The Phantom of the Opera,” portrays a plucky Kathy with a lovely voice.
Other standouts are Kristine Bendul as the dancer Olga and the Cyd Charisse role (the woman in green) in the “Broadway Melody” ballet. Coming in the middle of the second act, the ballet is a strange complement for all that’s come before. But on its own, with Elder and Bendul at the center, it displays the breadth of Gene Kelly-Stanley Donen creativity and the range of the onstage dancers.
Ms. Spencer is in her fifth CLO show as Lina and the Canton, Ohio, native seems to grow with each role. Here, she delivers some of the best lines as the not-so-dumb blonde bombshell. James Stellos as the Diction Coach adds comic flair to “Moses Supposes” and it’s always a good sign when Jeff Howell (Roscoe Dexter) and Christine Laitta (Dora/Phoebe) are on a CLO stage.
Jacob Epstein and Matthew Fedorek make the most of their dance scene as young Cosmo and Don, so there’s no question they will grow into “Singin’ in the Rain’s” dynamic duo.
Linda Goodrich, who has choreographed previous productions of “Singin’ in the Rain” for Pittsburgh CLO, this time doubles as a director, as she did while working with Mr. Elder, Ms. Patterson and Mr. Tedder for another regional company. Staying true to the Kelly-Donen choreography and Comden-Green book, she guides with a sure hand and the actors’ comfort level shows onstage.
There were a few miscues opening-night Friday, including a video that appeared before it was due and a fallen headdress during a dance number. Most alarming was Mr. Elder nearly taking a tumble on the wet stage, but recovering nicely. While the water effect for the “Singin’ in the Rain” number earned its own applause, the dancer’s umbrella didn’t always perform as it was bidden, yet he never lost his gusto for the big Act 1 closer.
To re-create the moment hometown hero Kelly is best known for, Mr. Elder started at a run and stuck the lamppost landing for a perfect snapshot pose.
The presence of families with children in the audience, along with a friend who was unfamiliar with both the screen and stage versions of “Singin’,” helped temper a tendency to think of the show as merely nostalgic.
So, out with the 21st-century cynicism, in with the “let’s just have fun” approach. CLO’s “Singin’ in the Rain” is a refreshing splash of musical theater on a warm summer day or any day.
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960. Twitter: SEberson_pg.