Singing in the Rain Wow's the crowd at Woodminster Theatre in the Oakland Hills!

Forty three years of musicals under the stars continued this week with one of America’s most enjoyed musical’s “Singing In The Rain”, bringing audiences to a standing ovation climax in the Woodminster Amphitheatre, nestled in the Oakland Hills. Seven years ago, Woodminster Theatre produced this sterling musical in their theater. The company was fortunate to be able to re-mount the show this year with the same four principal actors who charmed audiences in that earlier production.

“Singing in the Rain” first evolved as a musical comedy created by Arthur Freed, the head of the “Freed Unit”, the MGM department responsible for turning out most of their lavish musicals created during the 1929 to 1939 time frame. Lyricist Freed turned to Nacio Herb Brown for most of the music incorporated into the songs written during this time period for MGM film productions. Screen Writers Betty Comden and Adolph Green also contributed to the lyrics of one of the songs.

The story behind “Singing in the Rain”, takes place near the end of the silent film era, right at the time Al Jolson’s famous movie, “The Jazz Singer”, was to be released by Warner Brothers with synchronized sound facilitated by the Vitaphone “Sound-on-Disc” system. When rival film producer, R.F. Simpson of Monumental Films learns of the new “Talkie”, there is concern, but not alarm. Most of the company’s staff see the new medium as a comic aberration, a short term novelty and dismiss its potential. Monumental’s current production, The Dueling Cavalier, is deep into its filming and it has enough problems of its own, so the possibility of changing it into a “talkie” is set aside.

Don Lockwood, the silent film star in “The Dueling Cavalier”, is a well known and a very popular actor with humble roots as a musician, dancer and stunt man. During this time frame in the motion picture business, it became a typical strategy for studios to promote the on screen romances of its leading ladies and men, into off screen gossip. For the most part, it worked very well, as pulp publishers used these salacious tales of romance and intrigue to sell their magazines and the movie studio promotion teams released strategic stories of romantic involvement to promote interest in the” next” movie.

In “Singing in the Rain”, it takes all the courage Lockwood (played currently by Darren Fuller) can muster up to play opposit his vamping leading lady, Lina Lamont (Susan Himes Powers), who is convinced that their on-screen romance (promoted by the Studio) is and could be as genuine off screen as it is on screen.

Don’s best friend and dancing partner from the Vaudeville days is a delightfully comic character by the name of Cosmo Brown. Cosmo (played brilliantly by Carl Danielsen) is always working in close proximity to his tap dancing buddy, Don Lockwood.
One afternoon, while escaping the crush of his fans, Lockwood runs into a lovely young lady by the name of Kathy Selden (played by Joy Sherratt), who declares that she is a genuine Broadway actress. Lockwood learns this while Selden puts down movie actors and their ilk as shallow and empty.

A few days later, when the studio throws a big birthday party for its Chairman of the Board, R. F. Simpson, Miss Selden turns out to be the lady who jumps out of a “prop” birthday cake as part of a birthday celebration. When she does so, it becomes clear to Lockwood, that Selden has been incorporating her dreams as a professional actress into her reality as a basic chorus girl dancer, certainly nowhere near the pinnacle of theatrical stardom to which she had ascribed herself. Lamont and Selden have a series of disagreements and in the process, Selden picks up a pie from one of the tables, intending to launce it into Don Lockwood’s face. He quickly sidesteps the maneuver, and she hurls the pie and hits his leading lady, Lina Lamont, in the face, instead!
Miss Kathy Selden is soon fired from her job at the urging of a vengeful Lina Lamont. Don Lockwood and his buddy, Cosmo, search high and low for Kathy Selden, to apologize for Lamont’s actions and for his own participation in the escalation of the argument that led to the pie event. They meet again a few weeks later, and in the process of making amends, they fall madly in love.

When Al Jolson’s film, The Jazz Singer, is released and becomes a smash hit, Monumental Pictures realizes that they have no choice but to convert the new Lockwood and Lamont film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a “talking movie”. The movie is rather flat as a regular movie, a rehash of many previous movies. Cosmo comes up with the idea of converting it into a musical, a dancing musical, to be called, The Dancing Cavalier. But before very long, the realization sets in that Lina Lamont has such an obnoxious voice that it would spell certain doom for the movie, if that voice were actually connected with the actress in a “talking” movie. Our heroes stew for a while and finally come up with the idea of substituting Kathy Seldon’s voice for Lina’s voice. Then they realize that all hell would break loose if Lina were to find out what they were doing, because she doesn’t think anything is wrong with her voice and on top of that, Lina hates Seldon. Ah, the wonderful complexities of stardom, but the show must go on! Naturally, I’m not going to tell you the exciting conclusion, so you will have to see “Singing in the Rain” yourself.
Background information:

When released in 1952, “Singing in the Rain”, the movie, starred Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Conner. These actors were not the studio’s first choice, but as the plot for the movie evolved, Howard Keel was replaced by Gene Kelly, when the principal character, Don Lockwood, evolved from a “Western Actor” into a “song-and –dance- vaudeville” actor. Gene Kelly, who was a consummate song and dance actor at this time, became the natural choice. Earlier in the writing of the script, several actresses were considered for the part of Kathy Selden, including Judy Garland (just before her contract was terminated with MGM), Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Leslie Caron, and June Allsyson. The role of Cosmo was originally envisioned for Oscar Levant. Jean Hagan was cast for the character of Lina Lamont but she was actually suggested to the studio, by another star who was first considered for the role, Judy Holliday. Hagan had been Holliday’s understudy in the Broadway production of “Born Yesterday”, and became very strongly associated with the character ever since. Finally, our own East Bay resident and local star, Rita Moreno, played the part of Zelda Zanders, aka as the "Zip Girl" (Lina Lamont's informant friend, who spills the beans on Cosmo and Lockwood’s plan to substitute Selden’s voice over Lamont’s voice before the film cames out).

Under the direction of Joel Schlader, an even larger chorus and a superlative dance troupe this show seems even more exciting than the previous show that garnered rave reviews in 2003. This is without question a stellar production under the stars! Woodminster Theatre has delivered a brilliant piece of theatre. Choreographer Cynthia Ferrer melded all these beautiful and talented dancers together into a cohesive and exciting unit.

In addition, the splendid orchestra, under the excellent and insightful direction of Richard Vetterli brings a richness and resonance to this production that would sound less articulate without out his excellent understanding of the songs’ subtleties. Songs continue to ring in my mind long after the final curtain came down. Right now, while I am writing this article, those wonderful songs such as “Fit as a Fiddle and Ready for Love”, “You Stepped Out of a Dream”, “All I Do is Dream of You”, “You Are My Lucky Star”, and finally, last but not least, “Singing In The Rain”, are dancing around in my brain. Singing in the Rain was performed superbly, in the “Rain”, by Darren Fowler (as Lockwood) as he splish-splashed his way around the stage.

Joy Sherratt was terrific as the effervescent starlet, Kathy Selden. As in the movie, one of the best stars is the actress who plays Lina Lamont, and in this case it is Susan Hines Powers. All of the principal actors are professional actors, and their performances are absolutely stellar. No question, this entire company is delivering “a glorious feeling” that will make you feel good for days.

This theatre is in the Oakland Hills, in the Joaquin Miller Park located at 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, in Oakland. There is only one weekend left for you to see this production so call now and reserve your tickets by calling (510) 531-9597 or visit their website at or Tickets range between $25 and $40 (with a $2 discount for children and seniors). If you take highway 24 through the Caldecotte Tunnel, turn south on Highway 13, until you come to the Joaquin Miller off ramp, exit, turn right and cross over the freeway and drive north to the park entrance just a few blocks further up the hill, on Joaquin Miller Road. Parking is $4 and paid to a park service employee.

I suggest going to the park early and taking a basket dinner with you so that you can get the best parking, close to the theatre entrance, and enjoy dinner in the park, before you see “Singing in the Rain” in the park. Remember that this theatre is in the Oakland hills where fog swirling in and about the stage is common. It can get downright chilly. Also, I suggest you take a blanket and a seat cushion because the plastic theatre type “all weather” seating can get a bit hard before the show is over.