Singin' in the Rain

remains one of the most loved musicals ever to come out of Hollywood, and this is a show that lives up to the promise of the original MGM film. Staged for the first time in Australia, this spectacular production is presented by David Atkins Enterprises and IMG.

Singin' in the Rain marks David Atkins' first project following his role as producer and artistic director of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Opening and Closing Ceremonies, a role that won him universal acclaim. Directed and choreographed by Atkins, Singin' in the Rain stars Todd McKenney in the role made famous by Gene Kelly. Rachel Beck plays Debbie Reynolds' role and Wayne Scott Kermond plays the role made so memorable by Donald O'Connor in the film.

"Singin' in the Rain is acknowledged as the happiest Hollywood musical of them all," says Producer David Atkins. "It is undoubtedly MGM's greatest musical treasure and the dance sequences in the musical are unforgettable. Gene Kelly's memorable dance to the title song is the highlight of the movie. In fact, it's one of the greatest cinematic moments ever captured on film--it's incomparable. We have replicated the glorious feeling that particular scene evokes through a spectacular rain sequence onstage, the like of which has never been seen in Australia before."

A smaller production of Singin' in the Rain toured the US last year and the designer of that show, Michael Anania, agreed to sell the design to the Australian producers. Local designer Eamon D'Arcy upgraded the show into a major musical that has become the largest and most ambitious version ever staged. The Adelaide Festival Workshop and Melbourne's ALM Pty Ltd built Eamon's sets.

Lighting designer Trudy Dalgleish has fast become the Lighting Queen of Musicals in Australia having lit large-scale productions of Grease, Annie, The Sound of Music, and Shout--all of which were playing somewhere in the country at the same time as Singin' in the Rain.

"It's a very difficult show to produce as it follows the film exactly," said Dalgleish. "The first half has 16 scenes alone and each scene has a massive piece of scenery. The stage is 40' wide and 60' deep [12x18m] to accommodate the scenic elements. In fact, there is so much scenery overhead I only have three lighting bars up there. Fortunately the show had a pre-production period of nearly four weeks in the theatre. I think that was great and it shows that we've had time to iron out any problems. Also, with rain plus electrics they were a little frightened that something may happen!"

Naturally the LD's big challenge was lighting the rain--a feat she describes as virtually impossible. "The only way to light rain is from the back or underneath," she says. "Of course, we can't light underneath and we can't light from the back because the set buildings are in the way. So it has been a big challenge to try get the rain lit bearing in mind it's also supposed to be nighttime. The only way to do it was to throw quite a bit of white light into the scene. However, there is still a lot of blue light so you still think it's nighttime. They cheated in the film by putting milk in the rain to make it white." The crew tried to find an element to dye the rain white but they could not find anything that was not a chalky substance that would have blocked the pipes feeding the rain.

For moving lights Dalgleish opted for Vari*Lite® automated luminaires: 17 VL6Bs™, 12 VL5s™, and 15 VL5Arcs™, while the conventional lighting is made up of 120 ETC Source Four profiles and 24 Colourset color scrollers. Dalgleish admits Vari*Lites were not her first choice, preferring High End fixtures, but as usual it all came down to budget.

"I've also used 56 6' mini-striplights because the whole show is flat after flat," Dalgleish explained. "I only have three overhead lighting bars to light the cast but there are also eight bars of mini-striplights to light the scenery. There are four ladders a side containing the VL5s and they work very hard.

"I'm finding the VL6B a real challenge in the theatre," she continues, "because you can't crossfade color. However, the VL5 is still my favorite fresnel lamp because of the incandescent globe and spot/flood facility. I don't think anyone will ever make a moving light as good as the VL5. Even if I had a full High End rig I'd still insist on having VL5s. I think the VL5Arc has had its day; they are so old now we either get a spot or a flood and never anything in between."

It is a fairly simple rig with the general cover done by the profiles and the Vari*Lites supplying the specials and the color. Eight High End Dataflash™ AF-1000 strobes create the lightning for the rainy scenes. Having successfully lit a string of musical productions in Australia, Dalgleish has developed a formula for lighting such shows.

"My standard rig for any theatre show is 120 profiles, 20 fresnel moving lights, and 20 profile moving lights," she reveals. "The fixtures are usually rigged in the same place on ladders and overhead bars. With that formula you can light anything and it's easy to make lots of different looks. It's also very versatile when there is a lot of scenery. With moving lights of all types placed in these positions you can throw anything at a piece of scenery, you don't have to rig specials for scenery. Gone are the days where you have to put up a full conventional rig plus a full moving light rig--I'm surprised producers put up with it in the first place."

It is a very simple lighting rig for the amount of scenery that has to be lit during the show. The moving lights work hard all night; in fact, there is not a cue without them. As is usual with a show designed by Dalgleish there are three front-of-house followspots, in this case Lycian 2kWs. The gobos used are standard to the Vari*Lites apart from two--the rain, of course, and a grille effect that Dalgleish favors to slash across scenery to create breakups.

The inclusion of a V-Dosc PA system meant a few changes in the lighting design for Dalgleish. Normally her favorite position for a moving light is center of the front truss, but this position was required for the V-Dosc system. Consequently a 3m (10') gap in the front truss allows for the PA dispersion with a moving light either side on the truss.

The show contains quite a lot of set electrics and circuits. Production electrician Peter Herbert worked closely with Dalgleish coordinating the set electrics. Built into the set are about 2,400 light globes--about 100,000W of light--which really come into their own during the Broadway scene. Elaborate chasing, fanning, and pattern work is achieved with the globes.

The show, programmed by Jason Fripp on a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® II, has about 350 cues. "I use the Wholehog II on all shows now," says Dalgleish. "We started with an ETC Obsession triggering a Wholehog II but I don't really like that concept. I think the Wholehog II can do almost everything an Obsession can do although it is a bit slower and it is a bit harder to program part cues. They are also small and the producer only has to pay one person to program and operate the show."

When the rain cue happens any lighting bars in the vicinity of the rain pipes are flown out 2m (6'). The design for the rain shower is simple yet very effective. Backstage there are two 1,250-liter (325gal) water tanks where the water is treated and stored. It is also heated to 42ºC (107ºF) to keep the cast comfortable. The water is pumped up to three flown rain pipes, 20' (6m) in length, from where the rain can pour down. Apparently the technical director, Richard Martin, spent ages deciding on the correct nozzles.

Prior to the downpour the appropriate set piece moves downstage until it is positioned under the rain pipes. All of the rain is collected in grilles, pumped out to the tanks, and back up into the rain pipes. The mist that the warm water creates onstage eliminates the need for extra smoke.

The orchestra has been known to get a bit wet as the cast splashes its way around the stage. "It's quite a traditional little show until we get to the Broadway sequence which is total fantasy," said Dalgleish. "It's my favorite part of the production. It's my kind of lighting, with lots of saturated color, and there aren't any large set pieces to light. Another big challenge in this show is that the set pieces are very flat and any attempt to make it look dimensional was difficult.

("The rain scene is also a favorite because it is so infectious," she adds. "Everyone likes jumping in puddles and when you see the actors onstage having so much fun you see the whole audience smile.")

"Lighting-wise it's an interesting journey because the show is set in the late 1920s when talking movies are just beginning but we also have flashbacks into the vaudeville period. Consequently I've had to recreate vaudeville lighting with footlights as well as trying to get gaslight effects out of moving lights. Then we get to Broadway where we go crazy with moving lights."

To recreate the vaudeville look Dalgleish had Strand Minum fresnels color-corrected to a shade of yellow, with a touch of lime green, making them appear like gaslight. "The show has some fantastic dance sequences," Dalgleish enthuses. "David Atkins has choreographed it exactly like the movie and I feel so sorry for the dancers! In the movie they could cut and do the next segment; here they have to do it all live every night. During rehearsal the dancers were coming offstage absolutely exhausted!"

SINGIN' IN THE RAIN
Lighting Designer
Trudy Dalgleish

Lighting Programmer
Jason Fripp

Lighting Contractor
Bytecraft Entertainment

Lighting Equipment

28

PAR-64 tophats

12

chrome PAR-16s

6

ETC Source Fours 10º

55

ETC Source Fours 19º

149

ETC Source Fours 26º

26

ETC Source Fours 36º

45

tophats for ETC Source Fours

4

Desisti 5kW 12" fresnels

1

Selecon 2kW 10" fresnel

8

Strand Minum 500W fresnels

8

Desisti four-cell Top Cycs

29

Altman MR-16 75W striplights

8

High End Systems Dataflash AF-1000s

1

Lycian 2kW xenon followspot

60

Colourset PAR-64 scrollers

26

Vari*Lite VL6Bs

18

Vari*Lite VL5Arcs

15

Vari*Lite VL5s

4

VL5 tophats with spill rings

2

Wholehog II consoles

5

ETC Response Opto-Isolators

1

Jands four-pack (4xGPO) dimmer