MD performers sing in the rain

Emily Sun, Staff Writer

Clad in 1920’s style glitter and glam, students shimmied on stage in the Middle Division (MD) production of “Singin’ in the Rain” last Friday and Saturday.

Based on the 1952 movie musical, the play follows silent film actors at the end of an era as the industry transitioned to talking movies in the 1930s. Cayden Tan (6), Madison Nina (7), Loewy Miller (8), and Claire Lee (6) played the leading roles of Don Lockwood, Lina Lamont, Cosmo Brown, and Kathy Selden, respectively. 

They starred alongside 21 other ensemble members — there are no small roles, only small actors, as the theater adage goes, and “we did not have a single small actor in our cast,” Dance teacher and Co-Director and Choreographer of the show Patrick O’Neill said. “They were all phenomenal in every way possible.”

The cast rehearsed for over two months to perfect their characters, crafting backstories, and mannerisms they embodied in their performance, Miller said. He watched the movie twice and blended Donald O’Connor, the original actor, with his best John Mulaney impression to capture Cosmo’s characteristic swagger, he said

Nina also drew inspiration from past actors for Lina’s shrill, nasal-bound speech. She cooked up her own take with a high-pitched New Jersey accent, topped with a hands-on-hips flourish for Lina’s extravagant personality, she said. “After the show, a lot of people asked me to do the Lina voice again,” she said. “I’m happy about it because it allows me to still bring that part of me out and shine a light on it.”

The show features several full-cast dance numbers. O’Neill drew inspiration from 1920s dance moves like the Charleston and classic Broadway moves like a kick line, “and of course, lots of jazz hands,” he said.

Ensemble songs were offset by intimate serenades, and the budding romance between Tan and Lee’s characters often devolved into fits of awkward laughter in rehearsal until the week before the show, Tan said. Keeping a straight face was a continuous struggle for Tan because of all the comedic moments, as well as the unexpected fumbles. In their Thursday performance for the MD, Miller missed the couch when he “fainted” and fell on the floor with a “very loud bang,” Tan said. “Everyone backstage started laughing.”

COVID-19 also presented challenges as the cast sang and danced with masks, which occasionally interfered with the mics clipped on the top edge of their mask. At the Saturday show, Tan’s mic slipped into his mask and filled the stage with breathing sounds. “After the scene, I sprinted offstage and three people were trying to fix my microphone as I did my costume change,” he said.

Masks also posed an obstacle to a central plot point where Lina stars in a talking film with Kathy’s voice dubbed over hers. O’Neill wanted the imagery of Lina moving her mouth, so he pre-filmed Nina singing without her mask and projected the video against a screen onstage during the relevant scenes. They debuted it at the Thursday performance — “that was the first time we ever saw it and I just started laughing in the middle of the show because it was so funny, and I couldn’t stop laughing for the next minute,” Tan said.

The final days before the show were both exciting and hectic, as students combined their songs and dances with costumes, sets, props, and lighting, Co-Director and Music Director Carmen Keels said. “It’s all hands on deck, like ‘oh, my goodness, how are we going to get all of this together?’”

O’Neill felt similarly stressed, but the show succeeded with support from the production staff, which included 14 students as student assistant directors, stage managers, scenic and lighting designers, costume assistants, master electricians, deck managers, and running crew members, he said. “I wish that the audience could see what happened backstage because it is a whole other production that’s going on,” he said.

Last-minute changes during tech week required the production staff to improvise solutions. A day before the first show, the much-anticipated rain machine broke after one of its pipes burst, so Faculty Technical Director Caitie Miller climbed on the catwalk above the stage and showered glitter on the actors as they danced in the iconic “Singin’ in the Rain” scene.

Costumes transported the stage to the 1920s with feather headbands, fringed dresses, and suit jackets bedazzled with sequins. “My favorite was the white dress with the fur coat,” Nina said. “I felt really good about myself, like I was a completely different person, and it was a really big part of bringing Lina Lamont alive.”

O’Neill worked with the production team, including an out-of-school Costume Designer, Erin Schultz, to customize the show’s color palette, which opened with old-timey sepia and transitioned into brighter tones. The colors culminated in the post-bow encore as the cast emerged in blindingly sparkly outfits, complete with matching umbrellas.

Before each show began, the cast gathered below the Gross Theater stage for a “Mr. O’Neill pep talk,” as dubbed by Tan. “I would tell them, ‘you should be really proud of what you’ve been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time because putting together a show like this is incredibly time-consuming and labor-intensive for everyone involved, even if you are ensemble member number 47,” O’Neill said.

Actors also helped one another quell pre-show nerves, Lee said. “We even made a little handshake before we went on stage,” referring to the dancers in “All I Do is Dream of You.”

The cast and crew felt a huge sense of accomplishment and relief when they finished their first show on Thursday, Miller said. “Right when the curtain hit the ground, everybody jumped in the air and cheered, everybody was hugging each other,” he said. “We were all in awe of the fact that we had just done that thing in front of the entire division and everybody saw it and the whole theater didn’t burn down,” Miller said.

After the final Saturday performance and the post-show celebrations with umbrella-shaped cookies and parasol-adorned cupcakes, the cast headed out to a drizzly night — perfect for the occasion. “We were like, “wait, we have an idea: we need to gather the cast so we can all sing ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ in the rain,” Nina said. “It was a time to remember.”