The news of Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long campaign of serial sexual predation made it all but impossible to invest in the notion of a movie studio where the virtuous men who run the place are subject to blackmail and worse by scheming, nefarious women. But can we please just all agree to make an exception for Singin’ in the Rain? A sterling specimen of the very top rank of movie musicals, Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen’s beloved puddle-splashing classic has been faithfully transposed, with its silent-era history and comedy intact, in Marcos Santana’s winning production for Olney Theatre Center.
If this rosy look back at the 1920s movie business, seen from the vantage point of 1952, required audiences to suspend their disbelief before, it reads as pure fantasy now, with all we’ve learned in the last couple of years about how powerful men wield their influence over women whose careers they can advance or destroy. Our romantic lead is good-guy silent film star Don Lockwood (Rhett Guter, stepping ably into Kelly’s galoshes), who’s smitten with chorus girl Kathy Selden (guileless and dewy-eyed Amanda Castro) but does nothing underhanded to make her give in to his overtures. Come to that, the chief of Monumental Pictures (an affable Michael Russotto) is presented as a fellow of integrity, too, give or take a throwaway joke about how he’s been busy in his office with a casting session. In fact, the only person painted in a damning light is Locke’s frequent co-star Lina Lamont (Farrell Parker, having more fun than anyone), whose squeaky voice and immunity to vocal instruction makes her fear the advent of the talkies, and who believes that because she and Locke are coupled onscreen they belong together in life as well.
Lina’s combination of jealousy and professional anxiety drives her to sabotage Kathy, who is hired to serve as Lamont’s voice double, seemingly dooming her chances to win an audience for herself. This is all much darker stuff than what people tend to remember about Singin’ in the Rain: those unforgettable numbers, many repurposed from movies that predate Singin’ in the Rain, which musical director Angie Benson has tuned for maximum penetration.
There’s the title song, of course, during which Guter hoofs it around a rain-slicked stage so speedily you fear for his safety. But he’ll likely finish the run with fewer injuries than the show’s unrepentant scene-stealer, Jacob Scott Tischler, who moves like an animated character painted in among the humans, seemingly impervious to gravity. As piano-man Cosmo, Tischler throws himself to the floor during “Make ‘Em Laugh” as though his bones were made of rubber. “Good Morning,” the other standout, has Guter, Tischler, and Castro engage in a three-way tap battle.
The production is handsome in every other regard, too, from scenic designer Dan Conway’s conjuring of the art-deco Monumental Pictures soundstage on which the action unfolds (I don’t know where he found that massive old piano-sized recording console, but it’s gorgeous) to the crisp black-and-white clips from fake silent movies starring Lockwood and Lamont. Escapism doesn’t get any more escapist than this.
To Jan. 5 at 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney. $42–$99. (301) 924-3400. olneytheatre.org.