An ambitious take on ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ at Aspen High
If You Go …
What: ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ presented by Aspen High School
When: Friday, March 6, 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 7, 2 & 7 p.m.; Sunday, March 8, 2 p.m.
Where: Aspen District Theatre
Cost: $10/students; $15/adults
Tickets: www.aspenk12.net and at the door
To put on the stage adaptation of the classic 1952 movie musical comedy “Singin’ in the Rain,” Aspen High School’s theater department assembled a cast and crew of 60, a 10-piece orchestra and a nine-piece dance team, along with shooting short films, building a two-story set, and crafting light projections.
But first, they needed two guys who could tap dance.
The show, which opens Friday, demands some complex steps from its cast, especially in the lead roles of Don and Cosmo, immortalized by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor in the film, and played here by Aspen High’s Cole Schwab and Emery Major. The pair has some big dancing shoes to fill. But the young actors wanted the musical’s iconic tap numbers to soar as they do in the film.
“They both came to me and said, ‘We want to make sure the tap is really challenging,’” recalled director Logan Carter. “Their tap skills blew me away.”
Carter brought in a special tap coordinator, Bryan Edelman, a frequent local performer and SoL Theatre hand, to help the Schwab and Major get their steps down.
“They’re purple by the time their tap numbers are done,” said Carter.
Indeed, at a recent rehearsal, running through the memorable “Moses Supposes” song – in which a speech lesson devolves into an outrageous dueling tap dance-off by Don and Cosmo – Major and Schwab threw themselves into the non-stop number, swinging over chairs, grabbing Don’s diction teacher (Sophia Higbie) and bouncing across the stage before leaping onto – then tapping on top of – a table. When the scene broke, both Major and Schwab slumped onto the stage, smiling but heaving.
“Guys,” called technical director Jon Geller from off-stage, “save a little for later. Don’t wear yourselves out.”
And then they got up to do the scene again.
“The main reason I chose this show was because I knew that I had a Don and a Cosmo,” said Carter.
A nine-member student dance team was also brought on board, to help up the show’s fancy footwork.
Along with the talented teens in its cast, the show is aiming for some technical feats rarely seen in a high school musical or in regional theaters on the Western Slope. The show uses projected images throughout, along with video projections of short films that were shot with the cast. Including the films was a necessity, as the plot of “Singin’ in the Rain” revolves around Hollywood’s shift from silent movies to talkies in the 1920s and the reckoning it brings on for Cosmo, Don and his leading lady Lina Lamont (Talitha McDougall Jones). Shot at the 125-year-old Aspen Community Church, to give them an authentic old-timey feel, the short films were directed by Edelman.
“This show has more technical elements than any show I’ve ever produced,” said Carter.
The musical’s professional-grade technical aspects provided a chance for students to learn on the job from pros like set designer Tom Ward and lighting designer Loren Wilder. So Ward designed the massive sets, but it was up to the high school kids to build them and make the work. And Wilder coordinated the lighting, but it’ll be students like Demian Detweiler working the light board and T.J. Kaiser working the sound booth this weekend. Geller is the show’s technical director, but this week it was high schooler Jack Dresser scampering around the theater orchestrating set changes with the crew as opening night loomed.
“They teach the students along the way,” said Carter. “It’s a cool process.”
Carter, who is five months pregnant and admittedly a tad more emotional than normal at the moment, said the cast and crew’s devotion to the project has made “Singin’ in the Rain” an extraordinary student production.
“It has nothing to do with me,” she said. “It has everything to do with the kids’ work ethic. Normally, at this stage I’m ready to cancel the show and tell them they’re not ready. But in this case I’m just excited to share with the community all the effort that they’ve put in.”
Preparations for the show began back in September, with rehearsals running for ten weeks from the end of winter break to this week’s fine-tuning tech rehearsals.
Last year, the high school staged an impressive take on “Willie Wonka,” with Schwab in the lead, in a show that included special effects like on-stage flying.
“I dare say this year is going to top ‘Willie Wonka,’” said Carter. “This show is the most talent I’ve seen on one stage and you’re ever going to see in this valley from a student production. You’re going to see an explosion of music and dance and just an amazing show.”
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