Theatre at the Center familiar talent Richard Strimer has no trouble following in the famous footsteps of the late, great Gene Kelly.
He was fantastic as Donald O'Connor's funny character in "Singin' in the Rain" when it was directed by Marc Robin in 2003 at the old Drury Lane Theatre in Evergreen Park, Ill.
And now, he's has successfully morphed into the identity of Kelly for the the Chicago stage premiere of "What a Glorious Feeling," the fascinating and juicy backstage story-behind-the story of the making of the classic 1952 MGM film version.
Get a ticket to this homage to Hollywood history before it closes at Theatre at the Center in Munster, playing just until June 2.
He's opposite Cara Salerno, who is terrific as the complex and caring dancer Jeanne Coyne, who in real life served as Kelly's assistant and was the ex-wife of Kelly's pal and director Stanley Donen, who co-directed "Singin' in the Rain" with Kelly.
Actress Nicole Miller delivers a larger-than-life, all-smiles portrayal as young Debbie Reynolds, and her performance alone, is well worth the price of a ticket to see this two-hour production.
Steven Stanopoulos, is a bit unsteady as Donen, while up against all of these fellow competing personalities. But still, he manages a firm enough foot-hold to keep up and come through as the man torn between two loves: his ex-wife and the lure of Hollywood success.
Add to all of this Robert Hildreth, as bubbling-over with enthusiasm song writer Arthur Freed, and the cast is complete.
Choreographer Danny Herman admitted to me he was "a little intimidated" tackling the musical numbers for a stage production paying homage to "Singin' in the Rain," one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. But he succeeds. And the result is an array of mastered tap and dance numbers, coupled with an entertaining glimpse into show biz gossip with revealing tid-bits about everyone from Esther Williams and Cole Porter, to Judy Garland and Jane Powell.
Along with the imagination and research of creator Jay Berkow is a story conceived as an intimate show, billed as "a play with music" and an "exploration of creative and romantic temperaments," to transport audiences to the heyday of the MGM movie musicals. It's a revealing portrait of the late dancer-actor-director-choreographer Kelly.
Directed by Theatre at the Center Artistic Director William Pullinsi, the staging employs a few odd fade outs, here and there between scenes, which leave the audience a bit confused at times.
Inspired by true events, "What a Glorious Feeling," brings to life the tempestuous love triangle that occurred during the filming of the blockbuster musical as Kelly not only clashes with co-director and friend Donen, but also falls in love with his assistant Coyne, who was already Donen's ex-wife.
By the end of the stage journey, the audience can more easily see how "Singin' in the Rain" is a film that almost was never made, and just another reason to cherish what resulted in such a crowning achievement for all.