Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
When: through Jan. 13
There are several reasons to make the trip to Oakbrook to see Drury Lane Theatre’s production of “Singin’ In The Rain,” the 1983 musical based on the beloved 1952 film, but the top one is the performance of Matthew Crowle as Cosmo Brown, movie star Don Lockwood’s exuberant best buddy. A fine actor as well as a consummate song-and-dance man, Crowle taps up a storm, has a knack for comic timing, and is rubber-bodied enough to hold his own against memories of Donald O’Connor on the big screen, even if the routines are scaled back a bit. He’s also making his debut as choreographer of some of his numbers — “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Make ’Em Laugh,” “Good Morning” — and does a good job with them, too.
Crowle’s achievement, and that of the entire large ensemble under Bill Jenkins’ direction, is all the more impressive because they had to contend with one of those crises that undoubtedly gave rise to the adage, “the show must go on.” Sean Palmer of “Sex and the City” TV fame, cast as Lockwood with much hoopla, was sidelined by an injury during previews. An understudy stepped in, the opening was delayed, and Tony Yazbeck, a veteran of the role on Broadway, was imported for the lead, all of which meant extra rehearsals and adjustments.
Happily, Yazbeck fits in reasonably well, is almost as good a tapper as Crowle, and is nicely in sync with him for their duets. He also seems to be having a ball during the crucial title number, with the help of the torrential rain that’s part of Kevin Depinet’s surprise-filled scenic design. Yazbeck isn’t quite as commanding a crooner as he is a dancer, but the chemistry between him and Jenny Guse’s all-around-lovely Kathy Seldon is convincing, if not intense.
As Lina Lamont, the excitable fourth member of the central quartet, Melissa Van Der Schyff milks the hideous terrible-for-“talkies” voice for all its worth, often to the point of being unintelligible. However, her big number, “What’s Wrong With Me,” is a lot of fun, as are the silent film sequences from video designer Bobby Richards (though it was hard to read the titles). In one inspired bit, the short talking picture designed to demonstrate the exciting new medium features none other than Debbie Reynolds, who of course was Kathy Seldon in the film and performs regularly at Drury Lane.
For the rest, John Reeger shows off his versatility in small parts ranging from the Dialect Coach taunted by Don and Cosmo to the villain in the silly silent screen costume dramas. Other Chicago favorites in supporting roles include Don Forston as Monumental Studio head R.F. Simpson, George Andrew Woolf as the silver-voiced tenor in the Busby Berkeley-esque “Beautiful Girl,” and Renee Matthews as Dora Bailey. Credit also goes to choreographer Amber Mak and music directors Roberta Duchak and Ben Johnson for helping to make “Singin’ In The Rain” enjoyable overall.
If you want to see a consummate actor at work, check out Christopher Plummer as “Barrymore” at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., on Dec. 27 at 7:30 p.m. Based on the 1997 Broadway production of William Luce’s play set in 1942, this filmed version is fascinating not only for Plummer’s performance, but also for the choices writer/director Erik Canuel does and doesn’t make. The “making of” documentary “Backstage with Barrymore” follows the screening but is more promotional and less illuminating than it could be. Tickets are $18 at the door, $15 in advance at musicboxtheatre.com/events/barrymore-2012-12-27-730-pm.