Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: 'What a Glorious Feeling'

Tense staging and evocative choreography underscore the drama behind film's most celebrated musical comedy.

Review: ‘What a Glorious Feeling’


By Jim Rutter


If you believe the story in Jay Berkow’s What a Glorious Feeling, mammoth egos and a treacherous love triangle almost derailed the production of Singin’ in the Rain. At Bristol Riverside Theatre, you do believe it.

Berkow’s partly fabricated script reveals the drama behind the making of the celebrated 1952 comedy: Gene Kelly (Charles Osborne) hired his young assistant director (and later, fiercest competitor) Stanley Donen (Zak Edwards) and Donen’s former wife, dancer Jeanne Coyne (Summer Broyhill) to help shoot and choreograph.

Unknown to Kelly, Donen still wants to reunite with Coyne, who’s loved the then-married Kelly unrequitedly since she was his dance student in Pittsburgh. Throw into this mix the decline of the big-budget musical film, a new studio head vetoing every expenditure, and a quirky newcomer (the adorable Liz Filios as Debbie Reynolds), and by the end of act one, Coyne fled Hollywood, Donen quit for another project, and Kelly collapses from pneumonia. The film remained unfinished.

Director Susan D. Atkinson’s visceral staging keeps the tensions high throughout. Giddy songs from a slew of movie musicals accompany long periods of deep audience silence recoiling from the verbal violence onstage. However, her casting detracts from the conflict’s force; Osborne’s imperiousness pairs well with his muscular dancing, but Edward’s smoother looks and better dance skills dampens Kelly’s romantic appeal (moreover, Broyhill lacks chemistry with both actors).

Like all Kelly and Donen’s films, Stephen Casey’s evocative tap-filled choreography tells much of the story. In the pivotal scene, the contrast between Coyne and Donen’s delicate, conventional pairing and the fiery, violent passion of her and Kelly’s coupling reduces the love triangle to a primal battle with one clear victor. The silent opening sequence illustrates Kelly’s manic narcissism; dancing before a mirror, he freezes between each series of staccatoed steps only to stare at his own self-pondering reflection.

The writing trades long on conversations led by exposition-generating questions and dialogue drowning in filmisms (regarding a divorce: “plenty of foreshadowing for that twist”). Cinephiles will catch all the dated jokes; only the cast’s unwavering commitment to Berkow’s style gives it any credulity.

The pat ending, as tacked on as it is enjoyable, insists on the play’s potent theme. As another film from that era put it, “the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”. Great art must matter more.


What a Glorious Feeling. Presented through November 18 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St. Bristol, PA. Tickets: $41 to $54. Information: 215-785-0100 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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