“I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again …”
Gene Kelly sings and tap-dances along those lines in the iconic lamppost scene in the eponymous movie after his character comes off a romantic evening.
It went on to inspire numerous production-heavy musicals including stage adaptations.
One such production of Singin’ In The Rain, courtesy of London’s West End (producer of The Phantom of the Opera, The Sound of Music and Mamma Mia!), has been wowing British audiences since 2012. It has won four Olivier Award nominations.
The story centers on a Hollywood musical in the middle of a transition to talking pictures from silent films in 1927.
Don Lockwood, with the help of his buddy Cosmo Brown, coaxes his girlfriend Kathy Selden into becoming the hidden voice of his leading lady Lina Lamont who is awful at talking ang singing.
The multi-million dollar production is coming to Hong Kong on Sept. 25 and will run until Oct. 11 at the Lyric Theater in the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts.
The play has visited New Zealand, Singapore and the Philippines.
As expected, the rain scene is a key highlight of the production, a particularly stressful challenge to its creators.
In the 1952 movie, Gene Kelly is said to have used diluted milk to highlight the raindrops and give them a silky effect with just the right amount of lighting and creative shooting angles.
Recreating the scene in a play is a logistical headache because of the constraints of the stage, but anything less than a faithful reproduction is out of the question for the play’s producers.
Company manager Johann Kupferburger says there are two such scenes in the musical, requiring 12,000 liters of water for each show and 800 meters of pipe to pump it high up the ceiling.
Kupferburger says the team is doing its best not to waste a drop of it.
Backstage, two water tanks will recreate the illusion of a flooded street — one to collect water, the other to flood the stage.
Rainwater will be sterilized before being pumped to the stage and daily tests will be conducted to ensure it conforms to environmental regulations.
“The water is set at 23-degree Celsius to make it comfortable for the actors and actress,” Kupferburger says.
Resident director Anton Luitingh says the stage floor is made of composite non-slip material to enhance the effects of the tap-dance routine.
With these precautions, the show’s producers hope audiences will focus on the performances rather than worry about safety concerns.
In fact, they can share in the experience by getting wet, although those close to the stage will be given ponchos.
Duane Alexander, who occasionally plays Don Lockwood in the current production, says the lamppost scene beautifully captures the character’s joy playing in the rain and hopes the audience can “genuinely feel the happiness”.
Another Lockwood actor, Grant Almirall of Cats fame, says it’s one of the most difficult roles he has played.
“I have to sing and act at the same time. We have to master tap dancing, ballet, jazz, etc. The lamppost scene requires a great deal of dancing sense, physical stamina and a solid singing foundation.”
Almirall says his personal favorite is the scene where Lockwood sings You Were Meant For Me to express his love to Kathy Selden.
Bethany Dickson, who plays Kathy Selden, comes from a musical family. Her grandmother and mother are stage performers.
“I love the curtain call where we’re all in raincoat doing a tap dance,” Dickson says. “During rehearsals, the director reminds us to imagine we’re dancing with Gene Kelly.”
Steven Van Wyk, who plays Cosmo Brown, says his favorite scene is where the trio sing Good Morning.
“It’s a very symbolic scene in which the characters work overnight to solve a problem. The set changes and the atmosphere are impressive.”
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 10.
Translation by Darlie Yiu
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