Making a song and dance of the golden age of Hollywood
4th April 2018
All this week, LAMPS are performing the classic musical Singin' in the Rain at the EM Forster Theatre. Here, the amateur dramatic group's Chairman and performer Andrew Swann tells Eileen Leahy why they decided to don their tap dancing shoes and twirl their brollies...
So Andrew, please can you tell us why you chose Singin' in the Rain for your 110th performance?
First and foremost, LAMPS [Local Amateur Musical Players] are excited to perform new and interesting musicals, and whilst Singin' in the Rain could hardly be described as 'new', it is new to us, and that most definitely makes it exciting. The Players have a long history of bringing comedy musicals to the stage, and with the larger than life characters seen in the show, we have the perfect opportunity to continue that tradition.
What makes this musical such a special piece to perform?
The story is a relatively simple one, the songs are instantly recognisable and the characters - originally played by Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden) and Donald O'Connor (Cosmo Brown) in the 1952 original film - are a lot of fun.
So, we have a wonderful opportunity to relive the golden age of Hollywood on stage and perform our own version of what has been described as 'the greatest movie musical of all time'.
That's quite an accolade! How will your performance live up to it?
Although the story is very clearly set in 1927 (the same year LAMPS first performed in Tonbridge), just as the first feature-length talking picture, The Jazz Singer, became an overnight smash, our production is not a slavish recreation of the film. Instead, we've taken inspiration from the movie and also our Director, Adele Ebbage, who has put her own unique twist on it. We have some truly stunning costumes for our cast, but also some more colourful twists for a true theatrical spectacle. The show is sure to be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears.
How many are in the cast?
For such a big show, there is actually quite a small cast. Numbering just 25, we've spent the last three months prodding each other with umbrellas, hats, canes and movie-making props in rehearsal rooms far smaller than the stage at the EM Forster Theatre, practising routines which are nothing less than a kaleidoscope of colour and movement. We've actually become a pretty tight knit crowd and had huge amounts of fun together - which
is what it's ultimately all about. Whilst we pride ourselves on our strong performances and
professional outlook, we are, at the end of the day, a group of people performing unpaid for the love of theatre itself.
Did you find it easy to cast the leads?
I always describe casting a musical like working on a life-size jigsaw puzzle. You can have lots of colourful and striking pieces, but the job of the director is to make them all fit together into a beautiful picture, and that's something our Director, Adele, has done with great skill. Our leads - Ian, Hollie, Abi and Liam - have rung every ounce of fun out of their characters to help get the very best from the script.
What clinched it for them?
Some of the characters are wonderful caricatures, and therefore a lot of fun to play. However, Don and Kathy, the romantic leads in the show - played by Ian Blackmore and Hollie Evans - are pretty well fleshed out three-dimensional characters, which is fairly unusual. They have flaws, they have a sense of humour, passion, drive, dedication, humility and, above all, heart. Our cast have enjoyed the process of finding those characters, bringing their own ideas to the roles they're playing and building relationships
with each other.
How long a period is there from rehearsals to getting on stage?
Most of the cast have been rehearsing two or three times a week since the beginning of January, but the principal characters and dancers have been doing extra sessions to get the mammoth dance routines - one of which is nearly six minutes long - in tip-top shape.
Added to this, a key part of the plot are half a dozen small black and white film 'recreations', which help tell the story of the change from silent pictures to 'talkies'. After days of planning, and in freezing cold conditions, our hardy troupe of actors, extras
and crew recreated some 1920s-style movie magic; shot in full HD and then messed up to look like 100-year-old cine film.
How and why do you think it is still relevant for today's audience?
Audiences are pretty savvy about how movies are made in the 21st century - with directors' commentaries, behind-the-scenes documentaries, set photos and endless interviews with cast and crew. But there is something mystical about those early days in Hollywood, when everyone did their own stunts and movies were short, fun and unique curiosities. It's a period that is just on the cusp of living memory for the oldest of our society, and I believe holds a real fascination for the rest of us. So to revisit a period some 90 years ago, set in the same year that LAMPS first performed, is truly magical.
What are you looking forward to about performing Singin' in the Rain?
I think every performer looks forward to totally different things. For some it's the adrenaline buzz of waiting in the wings for the curtain to go up, for others it's the applause you get at the end of a successful show. I love the feeling of standing in the
almost blinding glare of the lights, hearing the music start and the excitement I get from fellow cast mates as a song and dance routine gets underway.
What do you believe is the secret behind a successful stage show?
Your cast have to buy into it 100 per cent. If they don't love being in the show, the audience won't love watching it. Our cast are really enjoying the process of learning and creating something truly momentous. Usually whilst rehearsing a show, there's a song which could politely be described as 'the runt of the litter'. But I can honestly say I don't think there's a single bum note, lyric or line in the entire piece. Yes, there are faster and more modern productions available, but Singin' in the Rain has a true heart of gold and a real feeling of class.
What will the audiences enjoy most?
Undoubtedly they will leave the theatre with a warm heart full of nostalgia. The show has a wonderful positive spirit; even the nasty characters aren't really nasty at heart, they're
just looking out for themselves. The audience will think about all those early movie stars who are forever captured on celluloid in their full living glory, chuckling at their 'pantomime' antics. With two dozen umbrellas open on stage, I guarantee they'll be humming the title song all the way home... with a smile on their face!
LAMPS perform Singin' in the Rain every day until Saturday April 7. Tickets cost £15 (£11
concessions) and performances are at 7.30pm each evening, with a 2.30pm matinee on
Wednesday and Saturday. Call 01732 304 241 or visit www.emtheatre.com