It is the American Film Institute’s favorite movie musical of all time, not to mention the personal favorite of Churchill High School drama director Jessica Speck. Now Churchill students will get a chance to perform “Singin’ in the Rain,” the famous 1952 musical that contains one of the most famous scenes of all time: main character Don Lockwood (originally played by Gene Kelly) twirling an umbrella and, indeed, singing in the rain.
In Churchill’s rendition, it will be senior Ben Hoffman singing and dancing in the lead role of Don Lockwood, and he’ll be able to do so in the rain, thanks to a complicated sprinkler and drainage system created for the stage by teacher Scott Selman and the high school tech crew. (The crew will spend intermission cleaning up the rain.)
The plot follows silent film star Don Lockwood (played by Hoffman) and his onscreen leading lady, the insufferable and nasal-voiced Lina Lamont (played by sophomore Sarah Anne Sillers). The setting is 1920s Hollywood during the transition from silent films to “talking pictures,” and Don and Lina must adjust to the rapidly changing times if they want to retain their stardom. Unfortunately, Lina’s terrible voice does not transfer well into talking pictures, and Don’s best friend Cosmo Brown (played by senior Michael Butvinik) arranges for overdub artist Kathy Selden (played by senior Tillie Gottlieb) to sing as Lina lip-synchs. The budding romance between Don and Kathy infuriates self-centered Lina, who attempts to sabotage the affair and Kathy’s career.
“Living up to the dancing expectations of Gene Kelly is tough,” said Hoffman, who plays Don Lockwood. “[The play] is very lively and energetic and the songs are great.”
Sillers enjoys her role as Lina Lamont, the delightfully obnoxious actress who is convinced that her co-worker Don Lockwood is in love with her. Sillers, who is the only underclassman in a lead role, watched “Singin’ in the Rain” repeatedly over the summer in order to study the characters, and she worked hard to perfect a nasal voice.
“[Lina] is a comic villainess,” said Sillers, “but you end up liking her even though she’s annoying.”
Gottlieb has watched “Singin’ in the Rain” since childhood and called it her “favorite musical of all time.” She said that her character Kathy Selden was groundbreaking for her time.
“She knew what she wanted,” said Gottlieb. “She was trying to make it in the industry, and she was breaking boundaries and challenging stereotypes of women being submissive.”
Drama director Jessica Speck is particularly impressed with the acting ability of the four main leads, and she said that Butvinik excels in portraying comic-relief character Cosmo Brown.
“Michael is hilarious as Cosmo,” she said. “He’s so funny — the audience is going to love him.”
Speck called the production — which features singing, dancing, tap dancing and extensive stage designs — the most complex show she has ever overseen. It is also the only play with tap dancing since Speck came to Churchill in 2000. To prepare, tap dancing lessons for the production began over the summer, and students have been feverishly rehearsing in the weeks leading up to opening night.
“This is a great group of kids,” said Speck. “They’re really enthusiastic team players. They’ve embraced [the musical] and found things about it I loved and made it better than I could have ever imagined.