“Beautiful Girl” is a big production number in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ “Singin’ in the Rain.” The production tenor is played by Mark Mitrano (C). Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
“Beautiful Girl” is a big production number in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ “Singin’ in the Rain.” The production tenor is played by Mark Mitrano (C). Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
If ever there was a musical that transports its audience back in time, my vote would be for “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Based on the 1952 movie of the same name and set in the 1920s, it sounds, looks and feels like an old show – and in this case that isn’t a bad thing at all. The original West End production opened in 1983, and it harkens back to a day when entertainment just hinted at adult issues with a wink and a nod and comedy was slapstick.

There are four main leads in the musical, and the actors cast for the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production were phenomenal in Friday night’s show.

For my 2 cents though, Robin Dunavant as Lina Lamont almost steals the show from everyone else. Her voice is nasally, Betty Boop like and sometimes borders on sounding like a goat with a speech impediment. But that’s part of why Dunavant’s performance is so perfect – she gives exactly the portrayal the role demands.

If you haven’t seen “Singin’ in the Rain” before, Lamont and Don Lockwood (Ian Laudano) are silent movie stars who play opposite one another in countless movies during the silent era of movies. He tolerates her, and she believes all the gossip tabloids that she and Lockwood are a couple. After Warner Brothers releases the first talking movie, “The Jazz Singer,” the head of the movie studio that makes the Lockwood-Lamont movies – R.F. Simpson (Anthony Cataldo) – decides his company needs to follow suit. His studio’s newest movie – “The Dueling Cavalier” eventually becomes “The Dancing Cavalier.” Lamont obviously doesn’t have the voice or personality for talkies or singing.

Meanwhile, Lockwood meets Kathy Selden (Bailee Endebrock) and becomes smitten with the aspiring actress. Selden has a great voice, and Lockwood’s best friend Cosmo Brown (Connor Olney) eventually comes up with the idea for Selden to dub her voice in for Lamont. It’s the original Milli Vanilli moment.

Of course, Lamont doesn’t want Selden to get her man or her fame so she concocts a plan to destroy Selden and keep her fame. She earns her evil villain status.

“Singin’ in the Rain” features a lot of tap dancing. I’m not kidding. A lot. So just watching the cast sing, dance and act as much as they do in the show is tiring. If you love tap dancing, this is the show for you, thanks to Artistic Director Scott Michaels and guest choreographer Natalie Malotke.

None of the characters in this show have more tap dancing than Laudano as Lockwood. He taps so much and so long, you have to wonder if he drank a Monster before the show.

The recent college grad has a stellar voice that audiences can appreciate all evening. Laudano obviously makes the title song at the end of Act I his, but I preferred listening to his voice on the slower songs like “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” He can serenade the hardest of hearts with his voice and soften them up.

Of course, the same thing could be said of Endebrock as Selden. “Lucky Star” isn’t the Madonna 1980s hit song, but the number in “Singin’ in the Rain” that best showcases Selden’s lovely voice. There’s really no song in the musical that Endebrock doesn’t master, but “Lucky Star” was the number that I highlighted in my notes while watching the show Friday night. She was absolutely stunning with the song.

Together, Selden and Laudano have good on-stage chemistry. Put them in any MGM classic musical and they’ll make you forget Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds. They probably deserve more duets together than the “Lucky Star” reprise and “Good Morning” with Cosmo.

The fourth lead is Olney as Cosmo Brown. He is the comic relief, and the character that gets to deliver most of the slapstick comedy. He even gets a number where he gets to turn it up 100 notches – “Make ’Em Laugh.” Olney seems to be enjoying the role while on stage, or maybe he’s just that good with it. Either way, he had the audience laughing Friday, and not just with his physical performance. His quips, jokes, banter and one-liners were classic comedy gold.

As director Roscoe Dexter, Logan Foster had a scene where he was yelling at everyone, especially Lamont, where I found myself laughing more than at any other point of the show. It’s never fun to get yelled at, but in “Singing’ in the Rain” Foster makes someone else getting screamed at look funny.

The whole cast will keep the audience entertained throughout the run of the show, which ends Friday. There’s big production numbers, beautiful voices and costumes that look like they belong to a $100 million movie.

The costumes could be part of a fashion show and mesmerize the audience as they are so spectacular – as always. When have you ever seen a Wagon Wheel show with bad costumes? Credit Stephen R. Hollenbeck for the Center’s amazing run of costumes. In “Singin’ in the Rain,” I personally was impressed with the costumes from “The Singing Cavalier,” but everything looked good.

My rating (out of four): 3.

Tickets can be purchased at the Wagon Wheel box office at 2515 E. Center St., Warsaw, or by phone at 574-267-8041.  The website is at www.wagonwheelcenter.org.