A show has surely succeeded if the audience walks away infected by the very emotions it aims to impart.
The musical production “Singin’ in the Rain” does just that. You leave the theater elated, humming that all-familiar melody, perhaps with a skip and a tap, and a silly grin on your face, thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if it actually rained right now?
And quite possibly, that will be the show’s challenge when it goes onstage in Manila beginning Aug. 20, in the midst of typhoon season, when a downpour means more of a headache than a source of joy, and where a puddle means a slippery, sodden mess, not the theatrical setting of some childlike exuberant dancing.
Presented in Manila for a limited period at The Theatre at Solaire by David Atkins Enterprises, Michael Cassel Group, Concertus Manila, Dainty Group and Lunchbox Theatrical Productions with Visa Entertainment, “Singin’ in the Rain” the musical is based on the 1952 Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer film that starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor.
Directed by Jonathan Church, it debuted in 2011 at the Chichester Festival Theatre in England before it moved to the Palace Theatre in the West End, where, following a sellout run, it earned four Olivier Awards nominations, including for the choreography of Andrew Wright.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is set in the late 1920s and tells the story of Don Lockwood (played in this production by Grant Almirall), a silent movie star, as Hollywood was beginning to transition into talkies. The process is beset with problems, not the least of which is the shrill, peculiar voice of Don’s onscreen partner Lina Lamont (Taryn-Lee Hudson), a woman deluded with the idea that their onscreen romance is also true in real life.
Don, however, falls in love with an aspiring actress named Kathy Selden (Bethany Dickson), who, with her beautiful pipes, is asked to voice for Lina. Apart from the Voice of Lina—which is possibly a character in itself—Don’s best friend and sidekick Cosmo Brown (Steven Van Wyk) provides the show with laughs.
What is predicted to be a crowd-drawer, however, is the actual downpour onstage. The show drops 12,000 liters of water at every performance for the unforgettable sing-and-dance sequence of Don, just like in the iconic film where Gene Kelly is seen tapping and splashing in rainwater.
At one of the company’s performances at the Civic Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, which this writer caught in May, members of the audience in the so-called “Splash Zone” (the first three rows up front) relished being drenched during the main theme sequence, as Almirall went to town with the splashing.
The spirited scene conveys the heady joy and intoxication of new romance. Don croons and taps and splashes, unmindful of getting soaked to the bones in the heavy rain: “I’m singing in the rain/ Just singing in the rain/ What a glorious feelin’/ I’m happy again/ I’m laughing at clouds/ So dark up above/ The sun’s in my heart/ And I’m ready for love…”
The Splash Zone has the most coveted and most expensive seats in the house. No worries, you needn’t bring an umbrella; you’re given disposable ponchos for the performance.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is a feel-good show with a universal appeal. You need not have seen the film to enjoy it and neither should you be of a certain age to relate to the characters.
“This is light but it’s not all frothy,” said Anton Luitingh, the resident director. “It has substance, and you leave whistling these famous songs. The story is uplifting and audiences leave the theater with a grin on their face, wishing there’s rain outside so they can sing in the rain.”
It’s not, by any means, a replica of the film, but neither will it disappoint fans of probably one of the best musical films ever made, he added.
“There are so many themes now that are quite dark. ‘Les Miz’ is sad and tragic, ‘Miss Saigon,’ all those shows are heavy. What makes this relevant now is that people are going to see shows that make them feel good. Same reason why the film was made, for people to find inspiration and hope after the war. It changed their focus onto happier things. It’s just delightful to be taken away into a journey and get lost in the story and romance.”
The singing and dancing are especially grueling for the actors; one sequence in the final act alone is 12 minutes nonstop. For this production, the three principals had a boot camp in South Africa for the choreography, and about 5-6 weeks more to train with the entire company, and another week of studio rehearsals when they arrived in Wellington, according to Duane Alexander, the dance captain who’s also a Don Lockwood alternate.
“The water has to be the right ratio because the less water it’s actually more slippery,” Alexander said. “So you want just enough water to make a lovely big splash for the audience, which they enjoy; if there’s too much water then the actors can’t turn properly. They slip. I fortunately haven’t. Our crew is on top of their game; once it stops raining they’re up with their mops and squeegees and they dry the floorboards and the speakers, in the 10-15 minute interval. It’s a very athletic show.”
The rain part isn’t just about water pouring from above, through a complicated series of valves and hoses. It’s also designed to flood the floor just enough for the actors to be able to splash. According to Johan Kupferburger, company manager, the floor is specially treated so it doesn’t rot, dries quickly between acts, and makes a great sound for tapping.
The stage is a unique setup. The orchestra pit is covered below, and the musicians are on top, away from the water.
The water used in the show is recycled for every performance. It’s UV-treated and chlorinated, and heated to a temperature comfortable for the actors.
“People underestimate what they can take from this show,” Luitingh said. “They think it’s a lovely, olden days show with a couple of lovely dance moves. It’s not. Andrew Wright’s choreography, I challenge anybody to come in and say, this is easy stuff. It’s a nonstop, adrenaline-rush show. We have physiologists on call to look into the actors’ bodies, so it’s full-on, energetic till the end. What’s wonderful about this piece is that we don’t have any fancy chandeliers coming down… It’s an actors’ show. We don’t rely on huge, technical wow factor, besides the rain.”
“The story is accessible,” Kupferburger added. “For younger audiences, it’s a lesson in history especially in the technological world that we live in now. It’s probably hilarious to them that there were silent movies. There’s a magic of sitting in a dark theater watching magic happen onstage that’s not created on film. It’s happening now at this moment and you can’t pause it. It’s got broad appeal.”
“Singing in the Rain” is from the same producers of “CATS,” “Mamma Mia,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked,” and opens on Aug. 20 at The Theatre at Solaire. For tickets, visit www.ticketworld.com.ph or call 8919999.