Don’t judge the singing talents of Charlotte Fletcher by her performance in the upcoming production of “Singin’ in the Rain,” that classic musical which Flagler Palm Coast High School (FPC Thespians Troupe 5023) will stage Thursday May 12 through Saturday May 14.
Theater-goers may be shocked at how . . . well, at how annoying and just plain horrible Fletcher will sound in her co-starring role as Lina Lamont. But theater nerds and Gene Kelly fans will know the inside skinny – it’s all an act.
“Singin’ in the Rain,” which debuted as a movie musical in 1952 but didn’t come to life on stage until its London debut in 1983, is set in that mind-blowing, exciting and frantic era when Hollywood was evolving from silent films to “talkies” – a quantum leap marked by the 1927 debut of “The Jazz Singer.”
“Rain” tells the tale of a Hollywood star couple making that transition: the magnetic Don Lockwood and his onscreen leading lady, Lina Lamont. The effervescent, talented Don is ready for the new prime time. Lina — not so much. While she was a princess of Hollywood’s silent era, Don and her other colleagues are horrified to discover she can’t really sing.
Lina’s solo number, “What’s Wrong with Me,” “is not very fun to listen to,” says Fletcher, a junior and Flagler Beach resident who plans to double major in business and musical theater in college. The song does “a very good job of being annoying.
“A lot of my struggle was implementing the singing style of the era into the horror that is Lina Lamont, and then doing it healthily. Primarily I belt a lot in my singing, so I had to layer my own voice underneath Lina Lamont’s. I was very scared at first to fully implement it because I didn’t want to damage my voice, especially since that’s the profession I’m going into.”
Kelly Rivera, who is in her 11th year as the drama teacher at the high school and is directing the musical, is concerned that audience members may not realize how talented Fletcher is.
“I told her I wanted some of her,” Rivera says. “I didn’t want the audience uncomfortable through the whole thing. I want them to know that she can actually sing. So, she’s had to work to find the happy medium. She’s done great.”
“I’m very happy with it,” Fletcher says. “It is by far one of my favorite roles that I’ve ever played, because I had to work for it and I had to get to know my voice better. It’s going against what you taught yourself and trusting yourself to make it sound still good.”
The plot of “Singin’ in the Rain” is thickened by a love triangle – well, not really.
While Lina giddily holds on to the delusion that she and Don are in love off-screen as well as on, the Lockwood character “has this fake romance with Lina, who I despise,” says Seth Kirk, slipping into his Don character.
As Lockwood and Lamont prepare to make their first talkie together – and Lina’s limp singing abilities are revealed – Don’s best friend, Cosmo Brown (played by Aidan Wise), comes up with the idea to overdub Lina’s voice. Don falls in love with the unknown aspiring actress, Kathy Selden (played by Molly Maresca), who is tapped to ghost-sing for Lina.
“Singin’ in the Rain” is composed of numerous, even disparate moving parts that make the production a challenge, Rivera says: Its ample dance numbers, its use of film, large cast, and that talented co-leading lady who has to feign that she can’t sing.
“It’s their fault for choosing this musical,” Rivera says, tongue in cheek. “This was really out of my comfort zone because I am not a choreographer. Thank God for Seth and Molly. This show is so much them. The choreo is incredible, and it’s 100% them.
“We were looking at another show and the licensing wasn’t available yet. When it fell through, they really wanted this show. And I was like, ‘Oh. you’re going to have to really help me out on this one.’ How often do you have triple threat singer-actor-tappers in your program? They are all strong singer-actor-dancers. There’s no way I could’ve done this show without that. It’s been a good lesson for me not to be such a control freak.”
Kirk, a Holly Hill resident who commutes to Flagler Palm Coast High School specifically for its theater program, created the choreography for most of the solo numbers. The cast “collab-ed” (collaborated) for the show-ending big production number, he says.
“Essentially the choreography is just ideas that maybe we saw in a production, and we were like ‘Oh I like that, let me build upon that,’ ” says Kirk, who notes he has been performing since he was 5 and plans to make theater his career.
“We also had to make films,” Rivera says. “If you’ve ever seen the original movie, there are movies within the movie. So we had to make films. Thank God Jack Neiberlein, our technical director, actually had some movie experience. So he held the camera and Cole Seaver, our sound guy, did all the editing and everything.”
Alas, the production will rely on various lighting and stage techniques to create the illusion of rain – no H2O will be falling on the stage during the showcase title-song dance number that propelled Gene Kelly into the ranks of one of the greatest dancers of all time.
Has the cast of the FPCHS show seen the master at work in the 1952 film?
“Are you kidding?” Fletcher responds. “I was in love with Gene Kelly.”
“Watching him dance, he was always so natural,” Kirk says.
“The season-ending musical is our highlight,” Rivera says. “It’s a great last hurrah for our seniors. It’s our biggest cast every time, too.”
All 26 cast members will take up umbrellas for the show’s big finale.
“This show is something that we never thought we could do,” Fletcher says. “And here we are 26 umbrellas later.”
FPC Thespians Troupe 5023 (Flagler Palm Coast High School) will present “Singin’ in the Rain” at 7 p.m. Thursday May 12 and Friday May 13, and at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday May 14. Performances will be at Flagler Auditorium, 5500 E. Highway 100, Palm Coast. Tickets are $15 adults, $10 students and are available at the venue or online. Information: flaglerauditorium.org or the box office at 386-437-7547.