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Dorothy Chansky

Weston Theater Company
Sings in the Rain

"Singin' in the Rain"
Weston Theater Company
Lyman Orton Theatre at Walker Farm
705 Main Street | 8 Park Street
Weston, Vermont
August 2- August 20, 2023
Box office: 802-824-5288 or www.westonplayhouse.org
Reviewed by Dorothy Chansky

Something familiar, Something peculiar, something for everyone….

Wrong opening for a review of “Singin’ in the Rain?” Funny things happened on the way to this review. Call the production at hand a forum for traditional promises. Weston Theatre Company’s August offering—which will be its final one for the current season on account of, well, Vermont’s extensive rain damage, which necessitated major property repair—does have something for almost everyone. If you’ve forgotten, the source material is MGM’s 1952 musical romance set in 1927 Hollywood, just as talkies arrived to kill silent film. Actors had to pronounce or perish, and in this fairytale, a dashing leading man (played here by Eric Sciotto, with enviable matinee idol looks) adapts, while his New Yawkish, vulgar leading lady (Amy Jo Jackson, appearing to have the time of her onstage life) is ventriloquized by the talented youngster who goes out there to dub with anonymity and goes home a star heading for her own billing. The character, Kathy, is played by the appealing Cameron Anika Hill, who conveys just the right balance between assurance and vulnerability.

Eric Sciotto. Photo by Rob Aft.

Weston’s hard-working and joyful company delivers sure-handed (and sure-footed!) performances in a musical conceived with no interest in tweaking or commenting on, much less revising, the movie classic on which it’s based. Some non-traditional casting is as far afield as this production ventures, and to fine effect so far as performers’ skills are concerned. I especially appreciated the vibrancy and dancing chops (is that a mixed metaphor?) of a number of triple threats who exploded the sylph-or-whippet body type one so often sees in dancers and leading ladies (if we still say the latter). Everyone here is a hoofer who can also handle melodies. Director Susanna Gellert culled (or allowed) subtle and clever gestures, steps, inflections, and handling of props by virtually everyone in the cast. Few surprises, though.

L to R: Conor McShane, Cameron Anika Hill, Eric Sciotto. Photo by Rob Aft.

The three exceptions to this are, first, Conor McShane’s high-wattage “Make ’em Laugh,” in which exuberance, timing, and rubber limbs give any ghosts of Donald O’Connor’s iconic delivery a run for their money. McShane looks slightly like Harry Melling, albeit skinnier, and it’s a sure bet he’s a better dancer. Than almost anyone. Second, it’s hard to forget the deliciously catch-you-off-guard moment at which Alex Hayden Miller, playing a prim diction coach, suddenly explodes into song and dance to join the two hoofers who are riffing on his illogical tongue twister, called “Moses supposes.” Miller ending up center stage on top of a table, leaving two of the three co-stars to flank him at floor level, constitutes just one of the gem moments created by Gellert and/or choreographer Felicity Stiverson to deliver exactly what you did not anticipate. In no way is this borrowed from the movie, where the stuffy, old, be-spectacled elocution professor is roundly ridiculed and left buried in his teaching aids and window curtains, thoroughly flummoxed and humiliated. It’s so much more fun when he can’t beat ’em and so joins ’em. When the entire company erupts in “Gotta Dance,” it’s a show-stopper, and audience exhilaration is palpable. The ensemble are too many to name, but Jessica Ann Lawyer, a slinky movement machine is a standout as Zelda Zanders, a role played by Rita Moreno in the celluloid original. As well, including Kara Mikula, billed as the (fictional) gossip columnist Dora Bailey, in this number, was an inspired call. The plus-size dynamo, who also played violin in another scene, tapped up a storm. I hope to see more of her work in the future, either at Weston or elsewhere.

L to R: Cameron Anika Hill, Eric Sciotto, Conor McShane.
Photo by Rob Aft.

You would never know to look at the stage that the production had originally been slated for Weston’s larger venue. After the flooding, everyone regrouped, and Frank J. Oliva’s set design looks as though it was always intended for the 140-seat Walker Farm Theater. All the action takes place on the basically blank slate of a Hollywood soundstage. Specific moments and locales glide into place as rolling garment racks, cameras, spotlights, tables, a piano, and assorted pieces of moveable furniture appear when needed. A six-piece orchestra, conducted by keyboardist Larry Pressgrove, is fully visible, and from the minute they get ready for the overture, it’s evident that technology is going to win the day, as all of them wear headphones. Shoutout here to woodwind wizard Mackenzie Conroy who culled auditory honey from her flute and a couple of saxophones. It’s obvious even in live theatre that live music and unmiked voices have gone the way of the dodo (or silent movies). And this production would have been impossible without the (usually hilarious) black and white footage created by projection designer Lianne Arnold.

I saw “Singin’ in the Rain” the night after seeing Bread Loaf Theatre’s “The Tempest.” Director Brian McEleney mined Shakespeare’s fairyland warhorse for new insights, replacing the “same old” of colonialism and good Ariel v. bad Caliban with a theme of forgiveness and willingness to change as the only way to move forward. In that case everything old became new. At Weston, everything in their new production was sort of old. But comfort food is not a crime, and the audience ate it up.

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