David Elder has a smile on his face as he takes up the umbrella and channels the spirit of Gene Kelly while he’s singin' and dancin’ in the rain.
After starring as Don Lockwood for the Musical Theatre of Wichita, Kan., and Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, the song-and-dance man returns to "Singin' in the Rain" to open Pittsburgh CLO’s 2014 season.
“I feel very much a kindred spirit to Gene Kelly, to be passionate about dance and perform so easily and with that joy ... He makes you feel like you can stand up and start doing it, too,” Mr. Elder said during a recent phone chat.
If only it was as easy as it looks to him.
Linda Goodrich knows from experience the potential perils of dancing on a deck with three pipes raining down on the dancer — and without the movie-fallback of a “Take 2.” She choreographed “Singin’ ” for CLO in 1995 and 2002 and again in Wichita with Mr. Elder as her Don, along with his current Cosmo and Kathy, Cary Tedder (Broadway’s “Big Fish”) and Mary Michael Patterson, on hiatus from her role as Christine in NYC’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“The show that David Elder has as Don Lockwood — the dancing, the singing, the flipping over couches — is unbelievable,” Ms. Goodrich said. “The amount of stamina that actor has to have! The rain deck itself is safe. But in rehearsal, you don’t get to work with the weight of the rain on the umbrella. So something that appears so simple as throwing and flipping the wet umbrella, it’s a different weight than what he had in the rehearsal studio. There are a lot of variables ... Well, you know. Live theater.”
Other variables for the number include the weight of three or four microphones, in case one fails because of the water.
The physicality of the role is suited to Mr. Elder, who fits the Gene Kelly mold of an athletic dancer. He started in his native Texas following his father into tennis.
“I wanted to be the next Jimmy Connors,” he said, adding that he taught himself to tumble like a gymnast starting at age 8. “I’d watch ‘Wide World of Sports’ and say, ‘I can do that.’ ”
He eventually took a job with Opryland in Nashville as a “singing tumbler,” before ever taking a dance lesson.
That was eight Broadway shows ago, including “Curtains,” in which he played the original Bobby Pepper, a role he reprised for CLO in 2010.
Mr. Elder seemed more concerned with the infamous lack of prep time that is par for a Pittsburgh CLO summer.
“And for Don Lockwood, he’s in everything, basically.”
The performer and his co-stars took matters into their own hands earlier this year, arranging a little “Singin’” time when they were together in February for a “Titanic” concert that gathered former Broadway cast members at Lincoln Center. Mr. Elder, who had been part of “Titanic’s” dancing couple with Mindy Cooper, was asked to sing and Mr. Tedder and Ms. Patterson moved into the couple’s role.
“Our director was in New York at the same time, and we thought it would be a great head start because we have four days rehearsal and then a run-through.” he said with a drawn-out sigh.
“I had done ‘Curtains’ before and it was like lightning speed. ... Malcolm Gets had never played the detective before and he was coming off a year of doing lots of big roles for the first time. I remember how tired he looked daily because he was just spent.”
Show staples that couldn’t be done in advance are the movie clips of Lockwood and Lina Lamont for the silent-to-talkie film sequences in the stage show. Ashley Spencer is a first-time Lina, so she and Mr. Elder will rehearse during the day and go in front of the camera in the evening.
“It’s nice that we have a new Lina and Roscoe Dexter [Jeff Howell] so it gives it a new synergy and a fresh approach,” director Goodrich said. It’s kind of nice to have a mix of both worlds.”
The director-choreographer said that the original stage version was not a Broadway success story, “because it did not deliver the most beloved moments of the film.”
When Ms. Goodrich first re-created the musical, one change she made was restoring the “Broadway Medley” ballet that co-starred Cyd Charisse in the 1952 movie. “Moses Supposes” and the title song maintain the original choreography by Stanley Donen and Kelly.
Mr. Elder was singin’ the praises of the movie legend and following in his footsteps when he learned that he was coming into Gene Kelly Country.
“I didn’t know he was from Pittsburgh … criminal, huh?” he said. “Well, that is amazing. It’s an honor to get to do it in his hometown.”
“Certainly anyone that does ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ has great respect for Gene Kelly, so it’s going to be done with great love and care,” Ms. Goodrich said. “And certainly I am really excited to have this opportunity with the Pittsburgh audience that has a special interest in Gene Kelly.”
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960. OnStage blog: communityvoices.post-gazette.com. Twitter: SEberson_pg.