Come and meet those dancin feet -- not on 42nd Street but in the exhilarating Paper Mill Playhouse production of "Singin in the Rain."
Dancing is the staple in this stage version of the 1952 film classic, and it's about as good as dancing gets, thanks to choreography by Linda Goodrich and director James Rocco, and the performers.
From tap to tango to jazz ballet, the company presents one bright scene after another- set to the ageless songs of Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed that writers Betty Comden and Adolph appropriated for Gene Kelly's signature movie.
In the story-about silent-movie actors trying, in 1929, to make the transition to talkies-the central characters are screen idols Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont, portrayed on film by Kelly and Jean Hagen. In this production, the two are played by Michael Gruber and Deborah Jolly.
Gruber creates a smooth and amiable figure. He puts on a little of the exaggerated image of the silent star, but reveals from the beginning the man's real heart. He skips adroitly through each mode of dance, and makes the most of the title song. In that, he is assisted by the wizardry of the Paper Mill staff, which creates a convincing, drenching rainstorm. The point of the song is that rain can't douse the enthusiasm of a man in love, and Gruber is convincing as he gracefully glides through the pouring and splashing water -- and across the slippery boards -- as if he were dancing on air.
Deborah Jolly provides the low comedy in the person of Lamont, whose nails-on-slate voice threatens her career. The role is a caricature and she successfully meets its challenge, never letting the shrill and carping sounds drown out the human being. She is especially funny -- because she captures the spirit of that long-ago medium -- in several short, black-and-white films Roy Miller made to advance the story.
The ingenue, Kathy Selden -- a young actress hired to dub the voice of a jealous and resentful Lamont -- is played by Christina Saffran, who had the part in an unsuccessful Broadway run of this show. Selden has a winning personality and a cultured voice that does credit to two of the show's musical highlights: "You Are My Lucky Star" and -- in a duet with Gruber -- "You Were Meant For Me."
Too much can't be said about Randy Rogel -- a West Point graduate and Emmy-winning writer -- who plays Lockwood's former vaudeville partner, Cosmo Brown. Rogel steps into the role -- made famous on film by Donald O'Connor -- with no apologies. He sings, he dances, he mugs, he mimics; he jumps and flips and falls on his face; he brings to life the faithful sidekick -- all with the natural tone and tempo of a born entertainer. His exhausting rendition of "Make 'Em Laugh" -- which became a trademark number for O'Connor -- is a deft combination of pratfalls and precision. His work with Gruber -- including the hilarious "Moses Supposes," a burlesque about elocutionists -- is infectious in its sense of fun.
The Paper Mill has assembled a large and energetic company, chief among them is Daniela Panessa, whose sensuous dancing in the largest production number, "Broadway Ballet", earned her a vigorous outburst of praise at the curtain call.
Michael Anania has provided a serviceable array of sets -- several of them self-contained little scenes -- that permits Rocco to tell the story with a motion picture's multiple points of view. Some glittering costumes by Gregg Barnes and evocative lighting by Timothy Hunter contribute to the richness of this presentation, which is a worthy opening shot in the Paper Mill's season.