In sunny Singapore, rainy weather is sometimes marked with a coloured disdain. We are not the exception, for rain has since time immemorial, been tarred by negative connotations, such as in the idiom “rain on your parade”. But not so in the West End smash hit musical, “Singin’ in the Rain” (SITR), which is set to make a splash on our island’s shores come July. Here, rain is the pinnacle of the parade – black clouds are not a source of agony, while pitter-patters from the heavens are reciprocated with jaunty dance moves and the honeyed voices of the cast.
The sweetest bit of course, is the irrepressibly delightful trio of lead actors: Grant, Bethany and Steven. Bethany, who previously starred as Maria in the internationally renowned “Sound of Music”, exudes a magnetic charm that hinted at her Public Relations background. Her male sidekicks did not come up short, peppering the interview with thoughtful quips. They have already sang and danced their way through the hearts of viewers in Hong Kong, South Africa and New Zealand and will bring much needed cool to the heat of the Singaporean summer, come July. Indeed, it is not just the thermo-regulated cold water that will be a salve to audiences. According to Steven, the lighthearted, plot captures the infectious heady optimism of the Roaring Twenties. We received such sound bites and more in the maximal comfort of a reverently capacious suite in Marina Bay Sands overlooking the pleasant Singapore skyline and the gorgeous bay front. The cast’s bubbly demeanor seems to be the very incarnation of their optimistic character roles as they marinated an afternoon conversation in the company of Whatsnext with delightful anecdotes and laughs aplenty.
Bethany, playing the highly energetic Kathy Selden, reminds us that the musical is adapted from the monumental 1952 production of the film. She is highly enamored with the original and with film stars of the past. “It is such an uplifting film. Gene Kelly (the male lead) is so iconic. You should catch films of that era, such as Sunset Boulevard. And there’s this Youtube video of Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller skates that you absolutely have to watch. He is such an incredible talent.” She gushed. The cast also reminds us that it won’t be an exact replica of the 1952 original, for the choreography is “a lot fuller and more exciting in some ways”. There are also more choreographed numbers for the medium of theatre demands “a different set of things, a different range of spectacle”.
As Bethany mentioned, the show chronicles a time in Hollywood when silent films have lost their sheen and were made obsolete. In their place came talking actors. But problems invariably arise with transitions: and the central conflict comes in the form of an actress, Lina Lamont (played by Taryn Lee Hudson) who loses her lustre with her harsh, grating accent. Stubborn and uncooperative, she teeters on the brink of villainy, but the show’s overwhelmingly positive flavour cultivates her as a comedic victim as Steven remarked, and there is no danger of the musical detracting from its merry-go-round mood.
Even their rehearsals seem like a carousel of happiness as the cast share their comedic blunders. Lead actor Grant Almirall (Don Lockwood) shares “I got caught in a ladder once. Bethany’s character was on the ladder and as I ran to the ladder, I hopped on it. I didn’t do the turn so well, and my body was dangling with my foot stuck on the ladder. And this was supposed to be the most romantic scene of the performance!” Steven van Wyck, who plays the frisky Cosmo Brown was not spared either. The larger than life actor remarked, “At the end of a number, I was supposed to run through a wall. As I ran through the wall, it usually just breaks and I go through it, but it didn’t and I just bounced off. I tried to punch it and it didn’t break. I then walked around it and tried to kick my way through it. Everybody was laughing.”
This may be a musical about silent films transitioning into talking films, but sometimes, words fail and music speak. Grant shares that “my (his) favorite scene is when my (his) character is trying to confess to Bethany’s character but can’t get the message across in words. The only way it made sense was when I (he) put my (his) hand onto hers and we (they) danced to the music.”
And while Bethany firmly declares that smashing cake in the face of co-star Taryn’s Lina Lamont is not her favorite moment, she still seems to revel in the experience. “It’s like one of those school dramas”. She note vividly. “You smash the cake and the cream goes all over the floor and her face, and I do this eight times a week”. Needless to say, Taryn got her retribution when she hurled one at Bethany on Taryn’s own birthday – heaped of course, with far more dollops of cream than the average piece of pastry.
The cast is enjoying bathing in this entire experience. Steven quips that the finale, where the whole company performs the tap dancing sequence is his personal favourite. With a thoughtful pause, he continued, “I think that it (the scene) encapsulates the ultimate message on the show, which is that even if it is raining outside, the sun is shining in your heart. It can be the gloomiest day but you just have this real joy in your heart that you just want to dance to, no matter the circumstances.”
And dance, they did. Whatsnext was privileged enough to be privy to behind the scenes footage of the actor’s rehearsals. Indeed, one would not be incorrect to think of the cast as a bunch of ‘athletes’ as female lead, Bethany Dickson (Kathy Seldon) remarks. The dances are high-octane, highly physical numbers, not to mention a dramatic sword-fighting scene. And to cope with the draining demands of eight shows a week, there is an uncompromising approach to therapy for the actor’s sorely overworked bodies as Bethany declares dramatically: massages, long baths, plenty of sleep, foam rollers and ice are abused in abundance.
Yet, what will certainly be bigger will be the highly impressive set, which boasts 12,000 litres of recyclable water – with a masterfully technical system of pipes and openings to inundate the stage from floor to ceiling. No expenses were spared with the floorboard, which was specially designed to withstand an influx of water and provide a delightfully resonant echo to tapping feet. It is as much a celebration of optimism and hope as it is of theatre. The sophisticated set is a fitting testament to the remarkable strides that theatre has taken from the nostalgic days of silent film productions and aurally jarring sound systems – and it is this sense of fevered optimism and admiration that I will be taking with me when I sit myself down in the performance hall.
So soak in this visual spectacle of immaculately choreographed dance sequences at the Marina Bay Sands MasterCard Theatre from the 9th to the 26th of July. And if you’re sitting in the first four rows, prepare yourselves to be soaked – quite literally – by the set.
By Tong Wei