San Diego Musical Theatre presents a rare live production of the film classic
By David Dixon
Movie buffs consider “Singin’ in the Rain” a musical masterpiece with its many iconic scenes, memorable songs such as “Make ‘Em Laugh” and “Good Morning,” and a triple threat ensemble led by Gene Kelly. The stage version, on the other hand, is not as well-known and has rarely been produced in San Diego.
One reason for that is the technical challenge of creating a rain shower on stage for the trademark dance scene. This year, however, the San Diego Musical Theatre has found a way to incorporate the precipitation into their production at Spreckels Theatre, despite California’s drought emergency.
La Mesa resident Ed Hollingsworth, who plays the role of movie studio chief R.F. Simpson, said the rain is not an illusion.
“I can’t tell you any more,” he said. “We’re sworn to secrecy.”
Hollingsworth was able to reveal that recycled water will be used during the Act I finale. “It’s used in the last number of the first act, which is a good thing, because we can mop up everything,” he said.
Hollingsworth, who taught theater at Grossmont High School for decades, has acted in previous productions of San Diego Musical Theatre in North Park, but this is his first time performing at the Spreckels Theatre in Downtown San Diego.
“It is just such an incredible theater,” Hollingsworth said. “When it was starting out, silent movies and talkies were being shown at the space. The theater itself is a part of what the show is about.”
Another cast member who is excited to perform in the rain is University Heights resident Bryan Banville, who plays the production singer who croons the tune, “Beautiful Girls.”
“I think it’s going to be interesting dancing on stage with rain,” he said. “It does not rain in San Diego, period. I come from the East Coast, so I am used to rain. It will be interesting working with local actors who probably do not get to experience it too often. To be able to do that on stage I think will be fun.”
His wife, dancer/ensemble member Katie Whalley Banville, will also dance in the rain.
“I think the first pair of galoshes I’ve ever put on was for this show for my costume fitting,” she said.
A dry sequence that Lance Carter is looking forward to is the final number. Carter is portraying Rod, the head of the publicity department at the fictional movie studio Monumental Pictures.
“It is always fun to be in the big finale,” he said. “I am not much of a dancer, so I am sure I will be put in the back and maybe just move my feet and smile. That is what I hope happens, because I do not want to screw anything up.”
Carter said that performing at the historical theater will be an unforgettable experience.
“I am just excited to do a show in the Spreckels,” he said. “I think that is going to be awesome.”
Before rehearsals began, Hillcrest resident, Cameron Lewis, visited Spreckels. He will be co-starring as Cosmo Brown, the role portrayed by Donald O’Connor in the original 1952 movie. Though Lewis has plenty of theatrical experience, “Singin’ in the Rain” marks his San Diego debut.
“The theater is gorgeous, and the gorgeousness adds to the whole experience,” he said. “I am looking forward to the day when the artists move from the rehearsal and into the space. That is always one of my favorite days.”
Another date Lewis is anticipating is the first time the cast gets to work with a live orchestra. “Rehearsing with an orchestra adds excitement,” he said.
Katie and Bryan Banville have persuasive reasons why audience members should see “Singin’ in the Rain.”
“It is a classic,” Katie said. “The tale is the embodiment of what American musical theatre is. This is a Golden Age musical, and it represents the beginnings of American musical theater and its development. Shows from the Golden Age of musical theater continue to be revived, because they will always be relevant and entertaining.”
Bryan thinks theatergoers might want to watch the old-fashioned experience, because there will not be too many opportunities for San Diegans to see the upbeat adventure live.
“This is the first time ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ has been produced in San Diego in years, and will probably not be back for a while,” he said. “It is definitely one not to miss, because the opportunity to see it is fleeting a little bit, because of the technical elements.”
—David Dixon is a freelance contributor. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.