Young cast makes this 'Rain' worth singing about

August 05, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

Most kid shows, I suppose, have limited appeal to people who aren't related to the cast members.

But Talent Machine's "Singin' in the Rain" currently in production at Key Auditorium on the campus of St. John's College isn't one of them. In fact, I can't imagine anyone with the slightest interest in musical theater not getting a tremendous kick out of seeing these remarkably talented, hard-working kids in action.

The indefatigable Bobbi Smith's troupe has pulled off one of the most ambitious shows imaginable. Technically, the show necessitated the installation of a complex system of pipes -- it has to rain onstage, remember? -- and the filming of numerous homemade videos, which are hilariously incorporated into the familiar plot about jealousy and love amid Hollywood's changeover from silent movies to "talkies."

But without auspicious talent -- this was Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor kicking their heels, you'll recall -- all the technical tricks go for naught.

Not to worry. Matt Garrity, the incredible 15-year-old now of Baltimore's Gilman School, is on hand and he had me shaking my head for two straight hours. He's grown considerably, physically and artistically, since the last time I saw him. He can dance for laughs, he can dance for beauty and he can dance for character.

His acting has come of age and once the voice decides where it's going to go, this kid will be somebody's very, very hot property. When he clung effortlessly to that lamppost in Kelly-esque fashion -- I'll admit it -- I had a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball.

The gifted Karen Zucco sings sweetly and dances with pizazz as Matt's love interest, and Kelly Lidz is a scene-stealer as the air-headed actress whose bimbo-ish voice rules her out as a candidate for stardom on the nonsilent screen.

What a gift for comedy Justin Brill has in the Donald O'Connor role! He makes 'em laugh every moment he's on stage and -- this I found hard to believe -- matches Matt step for step most of the time. He's gifted in a big way.

I also enjoyed Jonathan Lidz as the high-strung director, Jason Diedrich in his stint as the goofy language instructor and the elegant featured dancer Jessica Crouse who, as always, tapped and tangoed her way into my heart. Elizabeth Lee and Julia Osborne should also be singled out for their acting.

Some judicious knob twiddling needs to be done, because the tape drowns the kids out too often, especially in the final sequence when it's hard to hear anything over all that canned applause. Some lines are swallowed as well; don't let up kids, even for a minute. There are times when the male leads don't put their songs out there so forcefully, but it's baritone range mostly and these kids -- I'll shake my head again -- are just 15 years old and haven't quite gotten down there yet.

For these gifted youngsters, the sky's the limit.

"Singin' in the Rain" will be presented through Aug. 13. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Admission is $7. Information: 956-0512.

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