Give me real rain or I'll take a raincheck. That was the simple approach
taken by Todd McKenney when he was offered the plum role of Don Lockwood in the stage
production of Singin' in the Rain.
The song-and-dance man could not see himself performing Gene Kelly's
classic umbrella scene -- and singing the title tune -- while being sprinkled with
Happily for McKenney, the stage production remains true to the 1952
film -- including "real" rain and Kelly's choreography.
The choreography was a key part in McKenney's enthusiasm to participate
in the production, which opens in Melbourne on October 5.
"The original choreography in Singin' in the Rain, as it
appeared in the movie, is really important to me," McKenney said.
"It's great -- classic choreography, Gene Kelly choreography, which is
brilliant to dance to.
"Often musical theatre suffers in the dance department. And they
get away with a show because of the tunes and the songs.
"Whereas Singin' in the Rain was a heavily dance-based show
because of Gene Kelly's influence. The dance stuff is as important as the songs, if
not more important.
"The reason I chose this was the choreography goes back to my dancing
roots. The anchor of my work is my dance."
Singin' in the Rain, produced and directed by David Atkins,
another song-and-dance man, also offered McKenney a handy new role to follow the glories
he created playing the lead role of Peter Allen in The Boy from Oz.
He has enjoyed being one of several stars -- he shares the stage with
Wayne Scott Kermond as Cosmo Brown and Rachael Beck as Kathy Seldon, while Jackie Love
turns in a show-stealing performance as the squeaky-voiced Lina Lamont.
The unremitting spotlight of The Boy from Oz was fine, McKenney
said, but he vividly recalled enviously watching fellow Oz cast members watching
him from the wings while they sipped tea wrapped in dressing gowns.
For McKenney this was far more than merely another job.
"The next project I did after The Boy from Oz was very
important to me because of what I'd created there, so I wanted to take it a step up or
a step in a different direction," he said.
"When David said he was doing Singin' in the Rain, I thought,
'Oh, I haven't had a good dance for a while.'
"I actually never thought I'd get the chance to do it because it is
David's passion, has been for years and years.
"I enjoyed it, but of course I never saw myself in the position to ever
play a role like that. It was the success that I had with Oz that actually
put me in a position to be up and running for this role.
"When I heard David had the rights, I presumed David would do it."
The original -- starring Kelly, Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds --
was a musical about a movie.
In the 1952 film, set during the transition from the silent to the
sound era, Don Lockwood and Cosmo Brown set out to save a silent 1927 silent movie that
had been transformed into a "talkie" musical, doomed because of the squeaky voice and
trashy manner of Lina Lamont, a silent era goddess grossly unsuited to the audible era.
They overdub the voice of Kathy Seldon, Lockwood's love interest, in a
film full of memorable and timeless digs at Hollywood in particular and the film industry
The film was made to order and based around the title song, originally
composed by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown for The Hollywood Review of 1929.
It was voted into the No. 10 spot on the American Film Institute's list
of that nation's greatest movies.
Like millions across the world, McKenney has long been enthralled by it
and it has played such a grand part in his dancing education that it seems to have been
"My mum's a dancing teacher, and the dancing teachers in the 1970s and
late '60s would always watch the video, watch the film and rip off the numbers and teach
them to the dance kids," he said as the show's Sydney season drew to a close.
"So, I've actually been learning these numbers for the past 25 years or
"I've seen it so many times, as a kid growing. We'd get up on a
Sunday morning -- mum would still be in bed -- and my sister Lisa and I would pop that
video on. It's as common to me as bacon and eggs, in a way."
Left to right: Todd McKenney, Rachael Beck and Wayne Scott Kermond