The Academy Players are staging a production of Singin’ in the Rain Jr. If you’re expecting to see Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, you won’t find them here. Yet. What you will see is the next generation of Broadway stars before they leave for New York. These kids are going places!
The “junior” production is entirely cast with young actors, and they still have things to learn on the stage. Some of the actors fidgeted a bit too much, seemed less comfortable with spoken lines than songs, or were at times too aware of the audience. However, these issues are part of the learning process of a young actor. They are also issues that were quickly forgotten as soon as the musical numbers began. These kids can sing! During the musical numbers, the entire cast could give any professional musical performer a run for their money.
Erin Johnston as Lina Lamont perfected the high-pitched voice of the character. Jacob King as Cosmo Brown and Melissa Hayes as Kathy Seldon seemed comfortable with their strong singing.
I could easily give details of each of the musical numbers because each and every one was so good. The cast’s singing voices are strong, clear, and steady. Some of the stand-out numbers of the evening included “Moses Supposes,” “Make ‘Em Laugh,” the title song, and “Broadway Rhythm.” Not a single mistake was made during the tongue twisting “Moses Supposes.” “Make ‘Em Laugh” was missing the romping slapstick comedy that Donald O’Connor gave us in the movie, but King made up for it with the quality of his singing voice. Choreographer Rita Maron also added four small clowns that adorably stole the number and added most of the laughs needed.
The limited performance space in the theater necessarily flattened some of the ensemble dance numbers, as when we see Kathy come out of the cake to entertain a Hollywood party. The girls almost backed into the wall, trying to navigate around the cake taking center stage, but, in other numbers, the limited space added stunning simplicity. When Don Lockwood, played by Douglas Meeker, sings the title number “Singin’ in the Rain,” the ensemble joins him with matching red umbrellas. Instead of creating a big, wet dance number, Rita Maron skillfully choreographs small movements and umbrella twirls under twinkling LED lights to simulate the rain. The simplicity of this version of “Singin’ in the Rain” surpasses any movie magic. “Broadway Rhythm” was another incredibly strong ensemble piece, showing off the immense talent of every single cast member.
Sue Brooks and Johnny Cagno deserve recognition for their costume design: The costumes added to each scene and they put obvious effort into dressing each member of the cast in keeping with the late 1920s, deftly overcoming obstacles to quick changes. At times, the ensemble needed bright colors to stand out but still blend together during numbers like “Singin’ in the Rain.” At other times, the ensemble needed to let the leads shine and the costume designers chose more drab colors for the ensemble while dressing the leads in bright spring colors. These two know what they are doing in guiding the audience’s eye to exactly where it needs to be.
The set was beautifully simple. The Academy Players used their black box space to their advantage for Singin’ in the Rain, Jr. Leaving props and set pieces scattered about like the leftovers on a movie set added to the effect of being in a film studio; however, the actors nimbly let us know when the movie set turned into a park or a party. The Players brilliantly incorporated their concessions bar into the “Good Morning” number and the closing scene. The only thing missing was the big curtain for the reveal at the end, but, once again, they were creative in their solution of staging a big show in a small space by using one of the other set pieces.
Do not go to Singin’ in the Rain, Jr. with the expectation that you will see a Broadway show, but definitely go see Singin’ in the Rain, Jr. to see the next generation of phenomenal Rhode Island performers. You will want to catch these kids before their names are in lights so you can say you knew them when. I only wish I’d gotten autographs so I could prove it.