By Phil Rabin
For lovers of “live” theater – and I am one of them – the holiday season traditionally brings a number of treats designed for virtually every age and taste. In the Washington, D.C., area, theater-going audiences this year have options that include “A Christmas Carol”, “Newsies”, “A Chorus Line”, “Come From Away”, “My Fair Lady” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is being produced at Olney Theatre, in Olney, MD, and I, and a few others, had the opportunity to attend a number of behind-the-scenes production meetings to see how the show came together.
The play is based on the movie of the same name that was released in 1952, and 100 percent of Rotten Tomatoes reviewers liked/loved it. Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor starred in the film and, stated Rotten Tomatoes, it’s “one of the greatest and most successful musicals ever filmed – filled with memorable songs, lavish routines and Kelly’s fabulous song-and-dance number performed in the rain.” (Yes, I know Rotten Tomatoes was not around in 1952, but here’s a link for you to check it out for yourself.)
So the Olney Theatre task was to produce and promote a production that compared favorably with a movie that, according to one critic, is “one of the shining glories of the American musical.”
The challenges they faced ran the gamut from how to get it to “rain” on the stage to how to make sure that the actors and actresses did not slip on the stage, which had been treated to make the “rain” run off and, as a result, was a bit slippery. (If you wonder how they get it to rain on the stage, you will have to see the show.)
Given the number of times they rehearsed each element of the show – it’s filled with song and dance numbers – it became clear that the “talent” in the show was equally athletic as well as professional singers and dancers. And a word about the level of “talent”: Olney, and I assume other area theaters, bring in performers from other cities – including New York City – for productions, so audiences really get to see pros at work. And, for this show, director/choreographer Marcos Santana was brought in from NYC. Santana previously directed Olney’s production of “In the Heights”. In addition, they complement the large cast with talented area performers.
The show – billed as Olney’s biggest production of the year – is also expensive to produce, given the cost of talent, costumes, scenery, orchestra, promotion … and figuring out how to make it “rain,” and what to do with the “rain” after it ends.
I left with a sense that everyone involved loved being in the “theater,” as there is no other way to explain why everyone works so hard just so audiences have a good time – and that’s especially true when they do two shows a day.
It will be interesting to see how Olney Theatre markets the show, which runs through January 5, 2020, but since the show is filled with toe-tapping numbers, word-of-mouth should push ticket sales as attendees probably will leave performances either humming or singing a song or two, whether it’s raining outside or not.
Phil Rabin is editor of Capitol Communicator. Capitol Communicator is a supporter of the arts, and views theater as part of the larger communications community.