Students at St. Mary’s High School don’t back away from challenges. In fact, they often seek them out. Such is the case with this year’s spring musical presented by the Drama Club. In early April, they will tackle what many consider to be the greatest musical comedy of all time--“Singin’ in the Rain.” And they’ll place their own unique mark on it.
The musical will be presented April 6-8, with the Thursday and Friday performances starting at 7 pm and the Saturday performance starting at 5 pm. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for students, and under 5 are free. Drama Club adviser Delia Febres Butler said it cost quite a bit to buy the rights and the music for this production and that’s why ticket prices are higher than they have been for past productions. However, she hopes that the prices don’t stop anyone from attending and said she will negotiate prices for families of six or more.
The audience for “Singin’ in the Rain” will be in for a treat, as they watch the cast and crew’s hard work come together in a unique presentation of this well-known classic. At the center of the production will be Rohan Merrill, who tackles the lead role of Don Lockwood. In his first year at St. Mary’s, Merrill didn’t have acting in a musical this year on his radar. Being a part of a military family resulted in Merrill attending eight different high schools, and arriving at St. Mary’s from Italy just before his senior year. His friends convinced him to get involved in theater, and he has jumped in with both feet.
“I played Gaston in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ my sophomore year, which was my first musical performance experience, and last year was Harold Hill in ‘The Music Man’,” he said. “Musical theater wasn’t something I had planned to do at St. Mary’s, but many of my friends here are in the Drama Club and I immediately felt at home. So when they convinced Ms. Butler to do ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ I was ready to help.”
And help he has. Merrill said at times he trades roles with Febres Bulter, stepping in as needed in the roles of choreographer and director. He’s also been assisting with costumes and set design, and working with the technical crew on details of multi-media and more. While Merrill is new to St. Mary’s theater program, several members of the Drama Club has been mainstays in St. Mary’s productions for the last four years, and have had their eye on performing Singin’ in the Rain for a long time.
“The seniors begged me to do this musical since it would be their last performance of their high school years. They knew it would require long hours and hard work, but they were up for the challenge,” Febres Butler said.
One such challenge was learning to tap dance. Merrill said no one in the cast really tap danced before undertaking this production. But with the help of Febres Butler’s tap dancing instruction, pointers from a fellow student who tap dances, and YouTube videos, the dance numbers are coming along.
Febres Butler said that rehearsals are going well, although at times it is difficult to get the entire cast together since many St. Mary’s students are involved in multiple extracurricular activities. Plus this musical, in particular, comes with its own unique challenges.
“Not only do you have to block the scenes, you also have to block the dance numbers and the actors have to learn choreography for each musical piece,” she said. “Then for this musical, we have the challenge of doing the famous rain scene by the amazing Gene Kelly.”
But the student actors are rising to meet each challenge. Merrill and Gilbert Noel Jr., who will play Cosmo Brown, often spend their study hall time choreographing and rehearsing their numbers, especially the tap numbers. Merrill also has been reworking the script, tailoring it to better fit the diverse audience that high school productions draw. He said the cast felt the full production lacked some of the things that their audience would be looking for and that the pacing of the show was off for a high school production.
“High school audiences are the most diverse theater audiences you’ll find,” Merrill said. “A Broadway audience mostly draws adults. But at a high school performance, you’ll have everything from 5-year-olds to many year olds, and they’re all looking for different things. The younger members of the audience love the slapstick humor, while the adults like the witty conversations that might go over the heads of those who are younger.”
What has resulted is a production that will be one-fourth of the time of the original but still has 19 scene changes. The cast has worked on ways to make those scene changes less cumbersome, including doing some scenes in front of a closed curtain, allowing for the sets to be changed behind the curtain, and incorporating the technical crew into the production itself.
“The tech crew plays a very important role, and since this musical plays out on movie sets, we’ll have our tech crew be the film set members with some lines so they can do their tech jobs while the story continues,” Merrill said.
And then there is the challenge of that famous dance done in the rain. Merrill and the tech crew decided on a multi-media approach for that number, and Merrill then spent a chunk of his spring break time to working on logistics and timing.
Although he didn’t plan to do musical theater this year, Merrill’s passion for this production, and for theater in general, is evident in his commitment to helping overcome the challenges that “Singin’ in the Rain’s” cast and crew have faced. A hobbiest film maker, Merrill sees theater as a chance for everyone to win.
“Theater is a very unifying experience,” he said. “I’m probably the least competitive person you’ll ever meet, but I’m very competitive with myself. That’s what I love about theater. All of us are trying to be our best selves as actors, and when you do that, it results in an amazing production and everyone succeeds; everyone flourishes. Nobody has to be the loser when you’re creating something.”
Even though many of the Drama Club members won’t find themselves in the theater as a career, Febres Butler also feels that there is much that can be learned from participating in drama. They learn cooperation, time management, and commitment, she said. Drama also allows students to build relationships, be creative, and have an opportunity to be someone else.
“Drama students are using their talents and gifts that God has given them to bring joy to the lives of others,” Febres Butler said. “Our audience for ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ can expect to see great performances by the cast, hear fantastic singers, experience lots of laughter along with some wonderful dancing. It will be a great evening for all!”
By Amy G. Partain, Communications Associate
St. Mary’s High School
Below, Gilbert Noel Jr., left, and Rohan Merrill, right, rehearse numbers for St. Mary's production of "Singin' in the Rain."