In polls of moviegoers and film critics, 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain is invariably voted the best movie musical of all time. Similarly, the stage adaptation of the love story surrounding the early days of Hollywood talkies has been voted the show that Wick Theatre audiences most want to see. So in the spirit of giving them what they want – and in an effort to, as the film and show’s song puts it, “make ‘em laugh” – The Wick is producing Singin’ in the Rain through Sunday, Feb. 18.
The stage show, which opened on Broadway in 1985, and opened at the Wick on Thursday night, sticks closely to the dialogue and the visual images of the movie. “It’s everyone’s favorite because there’s something sacred about the dialogue and the way things unfold,” says Jeremy Benton, who plays leading man Donn Lockwood, a/k/a the Gene Kelly role. “I think people would rebel if you changed it too much.”
Yet director Rommy Sandhu, who makes his Wick debut with Singin’ in the Rain, insists he does not feel an obligation to slavishly deliver a show that lives up to what fans of the movie remember. “It’s like being a chef. You take the comfort food that people know and you can restructure it,” he says. “Serve it up with a different take on it. It’s about finding my way of telling the story, finding the nuances, finding ways to tailor it to these performers. It’s still giving the audience what it desires, but with my voice included in it.
“There are these great visual moments that we all remember. It’s taking the soul of them and getting them across the footlights to the audience, so that they’re invested in them,” says Sandhu. “So that when the characters are in love, the audience is on that ride with them rather than standing back and being a spectator.”
As a live experience, the stage show is an improvement over the movie because of “the connection with the audience,” says Courter Simmons, featured in The Wick’s Beauty and the Beast and Drowsy Chaperone, here playing Don’s sidekick Cosmo Brown, a/k/a the Donald O’Connor role. “The theater is a communal experience that we’re all having. Doing ‘Make ’Em Laugh,’ I can actually make people laugh, hear them laughing and get the energy from all that.”
Audiences do want to see the movie they have long loved come to life, and they don’t. “They want nostalgia, but they also want to be surprised,” explains Benton.
“It really is nostalgic,” says Darien Crago, another Wick rookie, who will be playing ingenue Kathy Selden, a/k/a the Debbie Reynolds role. “You see this and it takes you back in time to the first time you saw the movie or a special memory that you had. When you see it onstage, you’re right there inside all these iconic moments. People are just going to eat it up, I think.”
Each of the principal performers and director Sandhu have all been involved with Singin’ in the Rain productions previously. In Benton’s case, he recalls getting drenched in the iconic title number, and is looking forward to getting caught in a downpour again.
“(I get) pretty wet,” he confirms. “It would be fun to completely douse yourself, but I’m wearing electronics, a microphone and a mic pack. They could be ruined if I get completely sopped, but I do get pretty wet. I’ll have double my suits, because of double-show days they’ll have to let one dry while I wear the other one. They’re wool suits, so they can’t put them in the dryer or we will be doing ‘Singin’ in the Rain Jr.’”
The title number comes right before intermission, and getting Benton dried off for the second act is a show in itself. “There’s hair dryers, towels, anything they can find,” he says. “It’s like a NASCAR pit stop, with a wardrobe and sound crew.”
The first two rows of audience seats may be less advantageous than usual for this show. Benton says, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that he hopes to splash those patrons “as much as I can. I want them to get their money’s worth.”
Each of the leading performers aspire to honor their famous film star precursors within being strait-jacketed by their screen images. “Filling that actor’s shoes is such a responsibility,” says Benton. “But if you start imitating, that’s when you get in trouble.”
Still, they know that the best reason to see Singin’ in the Rain is to recapture some of the enjoyment of the movie. “If you’ve seen the movie before, it bringd you right back to that happy memory,” says Crago. “You’re just going to smile for two and a half hours.”
“If you like the movie, or even if you’ve never seen it, it’s like you’re the final cast member in this movie,” adds Benton. “If you’ve never seen the movie, you’re gonna be blown away. Because the numbers just keep coming. It runs at you like a freight train. And who doesn’t love tap dancing? If you don’t, go get yourself checked out.”
SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, The Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Feb. 18. $85. 561-995-2333, or visit thewick.org.