Intimate Walker Farm brings new life to classic musical ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

By Bob Behr
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

It was raining outside as we ran from the car into Walker Farm to see Singin’ in the Rain. Later on and deep into the show, rain fell at the rear of the stage near a door open to the outside – and for a moment I believed the rain was real.

From left, Conor McShane, Cameron Anika Hill and Eric Sciotto as Cosmo Brown, Kathy Selden and Don Lockwood tear up the furniture.All photos courtesy The Weston Theater Company.

It wasn’t just the rainy summer we’re having. (Wow. Rainy summer. What an understatement.) But by the time the title number occurred, this musical had me in its spell, believing in the most wonderful, almost impossible things.

Because of severe flood damage to the Main Stage at the Weston Playhouse (See July 24 article: Weston Theater cancels last two shows; ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ moving to Walker Farm),  planned shows had to be canceled and Singin’ in the Rain had to be adapted from the larger Playhouse to the more compact Walker Farm. A production originally planned with lots of bells and whistles is now something much more intimate and cabaret-like. But this snappy, wickedly funny version of the musical, superbly directed by Weston’s Executive Artistic Director Susanna Gellert, turned out to be just the right size.

If you expect the basic elements of Singin’ in the Rain, you won’t be disappointed. This production has great costumes,  goofy comedic scenes and the romance you expect. The old-timey silent film clips that punctuate the story are extra funny because they clearly were filmed in the town of Weston. And you’ll be treated to some classic songs: “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “You Were Meant for Me,” “Good Morning,” and of course “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The stage musical was adapted from the Gene Kelly movie, so its storyline is basically the same, depicting silent movie stars of the 1920s trying to make the transition to talkies. There’s a romance between a hot-shot silent film actor and a nightclub chorus girl who has a great singing voice. And the comic element comes from the problem of what to do with Lina Lamont, a silent film mega-star whose scratchy nasal voice doesn’t suit talkies.

Amy Jo Jackson as silent film star Lina Lamont.

Singin’ in the Rain is on the short list of musicals in which dancing is essential to the show’s message. Thankfully, Weston Theatre Company has recruited top-notch dancers for virtually every role. The ensemble is ably led by Eric Sciotto, Cameron Anika Hill and Conor McShane as Don Lockwood, Kathy Selden and Cosmo Brown, three of four characters at the center of the story. Repeatedly, in song-and-dance numbers throughout, all 18 performers tap dance as if they were born doing it. For making all this look easy, high praise goes to choreographer Felicity Stiverson, dance captain Tommy Sutter and music director Larry Pressgrove.

On the night I attended, my fellow audience members were as excited as I was to be watching live, up-close tap dancing and showed it with their applause and outbursts of cheering.

Also at the center of Singin’ in the Rain’s usually wacky, always romantic story is the unforgettable character silent film star Lina Lamont, played here by Amy Jo Jackson. Though Lamont is an outlandish, hardly believable character, Jackson owns the role from the moment she steps on stage – and, bizarrely, she makes it believable. So much of Lina Lamont’s importance lies in what she says and how she says what she says, and in this regard Jackson is hands-down hilarious.

‘Singin’ in the Rain’ can’t help but ‘Make ‘Em Laugh.’

Familiar with the iconic 1952 film, I approached this production in Weston with visions of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and Jean Hagen dancing in my head. But those were quickly chased away. For one thing, the stage musical has songs and character details that were not in the movie, which lent more substance to the story. For another, there’s the experience of sitting in a small theater just a few feet from pitch-perfect performers. Their exuberance is infectious.

The theater company wrestled with using real water for the iconic Singin’ in the Rain dance sequence, concerned that it might just be too soon after the July 10 devastating floods. Without spilling the beans, I will say it was every bit as enchanting as could be hoped for.

Singin’ in the Rain at Weston ends with the song “Broadway Rhythm/Gotta Dance” – a song about commitment to a dream, a song about survival despite the obstacles. In this stormy, flood-ravaged summer of 2023, it’s a fitting tribute to the tradition of theater in Weston and the enduring strength of its people, their neighbors and all of Vermont.

Singin’ in the Rain plays at Walker Farm through Sunday, Aug. 20. Due to the venue change from the Playhouse (306 seats) to Walker Farm (118 seats) and reseating of all current ticket holders, new ticket availability is extremely limited. Click here or contact the Weston box office at 802-824-5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: Andover resident Bob Behr is a retired English teacher and non-profit fundraiser. He has written about theater, food and local culture for community newspapers in Philadelphia and Vermont.

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