Our Lent Term Musical SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is renowned for its iconic tap dancing. As we get into the second week of the run, we spoke to the show’s Director and Choreographer, LUCY THOMPSON, to hear more about the large amount of tap dance choreography featured in the show, and even how it works in the rain.
From the very beginning of working on this musical, I was especially excited about how much tap dancing is featured in the show, and how iconic Gene Kelly’s choreography is from the 1952 film, also starring Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. From ‘Good Morning’, to ‘Moses Supposes’, ‘Fit as a Fiddle’, ‘Broadway Melody’ and of course, the titular song, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, this musical has a ridiculous amount of tap dancing, and we had a lot to live up to! Tap dance is one of the hardest styles of dance there is – it’s both movement and rhythmic percussion, using metal plates on your feet to make such varied sounds in time with the live orchestra. From the moment when I started to learn tap aged 5, I absolutely fell in love with it, to the extent that I have just started a PhD in the Department of Geography at Cambridge, researching the cultural histories and geographies of tap dance in America. Gene Kelly’s iconic choreography from the film, as well as the recent stage adaptations, are some of the best-loved dance sequences in the history of musical theatre, and I was so excited to be given the opportunity to re-stage this in our own production.
As the character R.F. Simpson declares “tap dancing…we’ve got to have tap dancing”, my goal for this show was to make tap dance accessible to everyone, including all students who had never put on a pair of tap shoes ever before and wanted to learn. I first got together a team who could help me bring so much tap dancing to the ADC stage, including Poppy Maxwell (Assistant Choreographer) and Ffion Godwin (Dance Captain and Assistant Choreographer), who have been such a huge help in making this show happen. Throughout this past term, we have run multiple tap workshops for complete beginners, including members of our own cast, the technical team, as well as opening these up for free to the wider Cambridge community. These were so much fun and lasted around two hours each, where we broke down how to make different sounds with your feet, we taught several core tap steps and improvisation, and went on to learn some of the choreography from the finale reprise of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, which is featured in the show. We are so proud to say that 10 members of the cast have learnt tap dancing ENTIRELY from scratch and are performing it in the show brilliantly – I could not be prouder of them all!
Singin’ in the Rain has a fascinating history with tap dancing, including the legend that Debbie Reynolds was cast in the movie aged 19, having had no experience of dance, and she practiced non-stop until her feet were bleeding. We of course did not do that to our own cast, and alongside Gene Kelly’s choreography, you may also spot some tributes to other early 20th-century tap acts in our production, who received much less prominence in Hollywood film, but were so vital to tap’s history and development. These include a tribute to Bill Robinson’s stair dance, the flash acrobatics of the Nicholas Brothers, John Bubbles’ syncopated rhythms and dropping of the heels, and steps influenced by Cora LaRedd and Marilyn Miller, to name a few, which have been incorporated into the vaudevillian-style choreography in the show.
Beyond teaching the cast so much fast-paced, intricate tap dance choreography within 7 weeks, we also had to add simultaneous singing, incorporate other dance styles (including jazz and ballet), umbrella-ography, and the rain! As created by Maria Cleasby and her team, real rain onstage has been such an exciting addition to the choreography, featured in the show during Justin Wilson’s solo Singin’ in the Rain number, as Don Lockwood, and the finale, where all 22 members of the cast get soaking wet! If you want to see how on earth tap dancing and rain can possibly work together, you’ve still got another 6 performances to catch this show – but don’t worry the audience is not in the splash zone!
Singin' in the Rain is performing at the ADC Theatre between Wednesday 16 and Saturday 26 March
Photos by Jonathan Black and Rebecca Tyson