andrew kruse-ross | singin' in the rain | july 2019
Whistling, umbrella in hand, Kent Paulsen dances his way around a snowy Saint Norbert campus. As the musical director twirls his way around a lamppost a concerned President Bruess inquires as to Paulsen's behavior.
“Kent, what are you doing?”
“Well, President Bruess I'm just getting excited for the summer musical,” says Paulsen.
“Aren't you missing something?” asks Bruess.
“But it's the middle of winter,” replies Paulsen.
Conceding that his number could do with a little rain for effect, with a snap of his fingers Paulsen magically disappears only to reappear, fully clothed, in a running shower where he joyfully performs “Singin' in the Rain.” And thus ends the one-minute-nine-second video announcing the 2019 SNC Summer Stage production of “Singin' in the Rain.”
The video first appeared nearly six months ago and was met with considerable excitement on social media. Now, mere weeks away from the production's July 11 opening, the excitement continues to mount. This is especially true where the show's lead performers are concerned.
While Mother Nature may not have played along for Paulsen's video, she sure seems eager to compensate with a number of drizzling days at spring's end. It's fittingly on one of these days that the stars of “Singin' in the Rain”— Jarrod Pfarr, Molly Lucareli and Bob Pekol — step in from the rain for our appointed interview. Coincidentally, the trio charged with duplicating one of the greatest pieces of actor chemistry in film history, come in from the rain having shared a single umbrella.
There's a unique comradery between the three actors and it's surprising to learn that they've only just met a mere three weeks ago. But that's what theatre and strict deadlines can do. With just nine weeks to prepare, the pressure is on. And while the cast are all smiles, they admit it's been a whirlwind to bring what's been called the “greatest movie musical of all time” to life on stage for opening night.
“It's pushing us in ways we had no idea it could,” says Lucareli of the time constraint.
But for her and her castmates, the demands of the theatre are not new.
Lucareli was a member of Knight Theatre at SNC and has performed in past Summer Stage productions. She credits 18 years with the Green Bay School of Dance as her foundational work and performs in the role of Kathy Selden.
Cast in the role of Don Lockwood, Pfarr's appearance upon the Summer Stage represents a bit of a comeback for him. Despite working in a number of performances while attending university in Minnesota, it's only since his return to Wisconsin that he's delved more deeply into dance and vocal training. This is his first musical role in seven years.
Set to play Cosmo in the show, Pekol's introduction to theatre took place when he was cast as the title character in a fifth-grade production of “Rumplestiltskin.” He remained busy on stages in the Phillips and Rhinelander areas before taking a break from acting during college. He moved to the Green Bay area and began acting again, appearing initially in the Green Bay Community Theater production of “Hilda's Yard,” in 2015.
Despite their experience, “Singin' in the Rain,” presents new challenges to the performers, challenges they eagerly embrace — maybe with the exception of performing while drenched (yes, the show does indeed utilize real water). Not least of these challenges is the show's extensive dance numbers that often infuse tap and stunt work simultaneously.
“Tap isn't my first dance language,” says Lucareli. “It's probably my last dance language and it's been awesome because I've always wanted to learn and properly do it.”
Where tap is concerned, especially tap performed in unison with others, there's no room for mistakes, as accidents simply can't be masked on stage.
There to assist the cast in this endeavor is Madison-based choreographer Kristin Roling, assistant choreographer Liz Jolly and dance captains Hayley and Sarah Eastman.
Only a mere three weeks into rehearsals, the trio expresses an earnest appreciation for their dance instructors' know how.
“They've been a tremendous resource,” says Pekol. “I cannot express enough gratitude to them for how helpful, and awesome and patient they've been.”
Technology is also playing a role in the cast's progress as dance captains are embracing video to record and share lessons with the cast in order to let them make the most of their practice time at home.
“It's been pretty cool because technology has played a huge role in choreography,” says Lucareli. “When we learn something we record it and we play it back or we can send it to each other.”
Their intense schedule where dancing routines are concerned has helped to accelerate the obvious closeness of the group. Indeed they seem much like longtime friends.
“With the amount of partner work we're doing and using each other, you get very comfortable with each other and very quickly trusting each other that, 'Yes, you are going to catch me.' You just kind of have to trust one another,” says Lucareli.
Naturally, choreography isn't the only area of concern for the “Singin' in the Rain” cast. To perform in a live version of such an identifiable show carries with it a unique set of considerations.
No doubt a large part of the initial film's success stems from the remarkable chemistry of the original cast. There's no denying the iconic performances of Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O'Connor.
As performers there's a responsibility to give audiences something identifiable while at the same time offering a unique experience that viewers don't get by simply watching the film.
“You want to pay homage to the greatest performers of the classic movie era while at the same time giving your viewers a fresh experience,” says Pfarr.
“It's a big-name show and there's a lot of responsibility from a societal aspect of theatre and performance and movie culture that maybe some other shows don't give you.”
The same can be said for the show's music. Indeed songs like “Singing in the Rain,” “Good Morning” and “Make 'em Laugh” will be familiar to many, regardless of their familiarity with the 1952 film, making precision in delivery dually important.
“A lot of the songs in the show are iconic,” says Pekol. “People know a lot of these songs even without having seen the movie.”
All in all, the cast is left to fill some large shoes in this production but no one is more eager to try those shoes on than this cast of growing friends.
“I think there's an understanding amongst all of us that the best way to make this show come to life is to support each other,” says Pfarr.
But what is it exactly that's given this film such longevity? According to the cast, the answer may lie in the show's ability to present enough humanity to offset its undeniable cheer.
“When these characters are portrayed in a way where they're vulnerable you can see how they grow through the interactions with one another … I think there's something really genuine about it,” says Pfarr.
“There are failed elements in their relationships and the work that they're doing, so there's this determination throughout the show where people are challenged professionally and emotionally.”
Adds Pekol, “'Singin' in the Rain' is a joy-bomb; you cannot watch the show or even be in the show without being happy. I think that's why the movie, the show, the music has had the longetivityto it.
“No matter what's going on, you can go to the theatre, whether the movie version or the version we're going to perform on stage, and you're going to come out happy.”
Your family is invited to experience “Singin' in the Rain,” which runs July 11-21 at SNC's Walter Theatre. Both evening and matinee performances are offered.
Tickets are available online at snc.edu/musictheatre or by phone at (920) 403-3950. Use promo code FRANK19 when ordering to receive $3 off per ticket.